Thousands of French Activists Hit Streets for 19th Straight Weekend of ‘Yellow Vest’ Protests

Saturday's Paris demonstration almost seemed like the classic French protests of old

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A French police water cannon vehicle is in place on the Champs-Elysees during the the 19th consecutive national protest Saturday of the "yellow vest" movement in Paris, March 23, 2019. VOA

Thousands of French activists hit the streets again Saturday for the 19th straight weekend of “yellow vest” protests. The countrywide demonstrations were markedly smaller and less violent than previous editions — possibly because soldiers were deployed for the first time to guard sensitive sites.

Saturday’s Paris demonstration almost seemed like the classic French protests of old. The sun was shining, and the yellow vests who marched from southern Paris to the iconic Sacre Coeur Basilica appeared in good spirits as they sang the French national anthem and chanted for President Emmanuel Macron to resign.

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The 19th edition of the “yellow vest” protests in Paris was largely peaceful. (L. Bryant/VOA)

Mechanic Frederic Briet, marching with friends, said it was hard to make ends meet at the end of each month, and that he was worried about his children’s future.

The protests erupted last November over a planned fuel tax hike, which the government later rescinded. They have since morphed to include a broad array of grievances. While the numbers are down, there is no sign of the protest movement ending anytime soon.

Macron and his government came under heavy criticism after rioting in Paris last weekend. The president had been away skiing, and his interior minister was spotted dancing at a nightclub. The Paris police chief was fired, along with two other officials.

This time, French authorities were taking no chances. They banned demonstrations in some areas, including the Champs-Elysees, where businesses had been torched and vandalized last Saturday. Riot police were out in force. So were soldiers — although none could be spotted near the main march.

Music professor Isabelle Darras said the yellow vests have unfairly earned a negative image. She then noted how peaceful Saturday’s protest was.

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A worker sets up protections on the famed restaurant Fouquet’s of the Champs-Elysees, in Paris, March 22, 2019. French President Emmanuel Macron announced that soldiers would be deployed across the country to help maintain security during “yellow vest” protests. VOA

Others supported violence — including Hugo, a tour guide, who gave only his first name.

“Any major social laws were passed through violent manifestations,” he said. “So I hope it gets violent.”

Amy Potting from Idaho joined the crowds of tourists watching the yellow vests, whose march skirted Notre Dame Cathedral and other key sites.

“Seems like they’re protesting the [wealthiest] 1 percent and a lot of issues we have back home, too,” she said. “Immigration’s part of it, I think. We don’t know a lot.”

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“Yellow vest” protesters in Paris carry a banner calling for rights for the unemployed. (L. Bryant/VOA)

Polls show support for the yellow vests has dwindled, but roughly four in 10 French still back the movement. Some Parisians shouted insults at the passing marchers.

A man who gave his name as Olivier said he understood their grievances but thought there were better ways to express them, such as voting.

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Macron launched a weeks-long debate to try to defuse the crisis, but it’s unclear what his next step will be. The yellow vests, however, are almost certain to be back on the streets next Saturday. (VOA)