By Lisa Bryant
In France, police clashed with protesters, as tens of thousands of ‘yellow vest’ demonstrators took to the streets Saturday for the fourth consecutive weekend. Reports say at least 135 people have been injured.
French authorities deployed nearly 90,000 police across the country, detained hundreds of people and closed major landmarks and museums out of precaution. Anti-government yellow vest rallies also took place in nearby Belgium and the Netherlands.
It’s becoming a familiar sound — and smell: teargas lobbed by riot police against so-called yellow vest protesters. Demonstrators sporting fluorescent yellow jackets were out in force again in Paris and across the country, protesting against a range of grievances, including low wages and high taxes.
Around the iconic Champs Elysees, demonstrators clashed with police, set fire to barricades and attacked stores. Armored vehicles rumbled through the streets.
Paris area janitor Jonathan Gonzales wore “Resistance Macron” scrawled on his yellow vest — referring to French President Emmanuel Macron, whose popularity has plunged to record lows.
Gonzales said France is one of the world’s richest nations, but the French people are poor because of decades of government mismanagement. He wants higher minimum wage and lower salaries for government leaders.
Other protesters brandished slogans like “Macron resign” … and “Listen to the anger of the people.” Many criticize a raft of tough reforms the government says are needed to make France more competitive. They claim the president only cares about the rich, not the poor.
The yellow vest protests began against a planned fuel tax hike, aimed to help fight climate change. But while the government has since scrapped the increase, the demonstrations continue, by a movement with no clear leadership or demands.
Protester Olivier Goldfarb says people can’t live on what they earn. The working and middle classes pay more taxes than the more affluent.”
Another protester, giving only his first name Hugo, had broader complaints.
“We’re protesting against a system that doesn’t work, but it’s not up to me to say we should do that or we should do that,” said Hugo. “It’s up to the professional politicians. We send a message that it doesn’t work anymore. Now do something, and do it quickly.”
Polls show public support for the yellow vests is still high, despite the violence. Senior citizen Eliane Daubigny and her husband watched the demonstrations unroll early Saturday.
Daubigny said she understood the concerns of protesters who have a hard time making ends meet. But she also knows how people live in Madagascar — and believes the French are pretty spoiled by comparison.
Many stores were shuttered around hot spots like the Champs Elysees. Others were still boarded up from last week’s rioting that cost Paris alone millions of dollars in damage. Restaurants, hotels and stores have lost business during this holiday season.
Meanwhile, thousands of other French joined a very different protest on Saturday — marching in the capital and other cities for more action to fight climate change. In some cases, yellow vests joined the demonstrations.