Thousands of “Yellow Vest” protesters marched through Paris and other French cities on Saturday for the 13th consecutive weekend in a row, although their number was lower than those of previous weeks.
The French Interior Ministry said 51,400 people protested country-wide, versus 58,600 on Feb. 2. In Paris, 4,000 converged to the Champs Elysees Avenue, down from 10,500 at a similar rally last week.
Despite determination of some to continue protests, the action has waned from its November 17 peak when the turnout was at 287,710.
Following changes to soften his reforms and shake off the tag of “the president of the rich” via 11- billion-euro (12.46 billion U.S. dollar)-worth concessions, Macron is likely to be able to ride out the storm.
Struggling to heed of public anger, he has been touring French cities, since he has launched national consultation on Jan. 15, to promote his far-reaching social and economic reforms which has increased opposition and brought angry people to streets.
Since then, the social action appears to be losing steam, as some of the movement’s representatives have said they were ready to halt the protests and join the table of negotiation with the government.
Opinion polls showed a recovery in Macron’s approval ratings. The latest survey conducted by Ifop on Wednesday saw the president’s public support improving by 6 percentage points to 34 percent in February from a month earlier.
The pollster also found that more people thought he was close to the French concerns and that his economic policy was good, with the score rose by 7 and 3 points respectively.
The “Yellow Vest” movement started as a campaign against surge in fuel prices in November 2018. It, then, evolved to social rebellion demanding the president to step down, which posed a serious test to his authority.
Meanwhile, the spontaneous movement remains amorphous with no leader and internal rifts. Some “Yellow Vest” protesters have proposed a list of candidates to run in the election for the European Parliament in May, a move called as a betrayal by other supporters.
RENEWED SCENES OF TROUBLE
Despite a relative calm in crowd, disturbances have flared up in the capital as protesters marched beside symbols of power such as the parliament’s two houses, the National Assembly and Senate.
Small groups of demonstrators broke away from the designated route and threw bottles and other projectiles at police who responded with tear gas.
Video footages showed a vehicle of anti-terrorism Sentinel forces in flames. Several motorbikes, cars and bins were set on fire in the capital’s popular tourist areas.
A group of 150 young people, identified as far-left militants had infiltrated the demonstration. They smashed shop windows and vandalized bank offices.
As first scuffles erupted, a man, in his thirties, not wearing the highly visible yellow vest that symbolizes the social unrest, was reportedly losing his hand when a sting-ball grenade detonated as he tried to pick it up to throw at police, news channel BFMTV reported.
Two other individuals were wounded, including a police officer.
Similar violent disturbances were also reported in other cities. In Lyon, central France, 17 individuals were arrested on charges of attacking security forces and carrying projectiles.
In the capital, the figure rose to 36 arrests, of which 16 were placed into police custody.
“These attacks are intolerable. Everything will be done to ensure that their perpetrators are apprehended and judged,” Interior Minister Christophe Castaner tweeted.
Earlier on Saturday, the minister said “We are vigilant. The security forces are mobilized to manage some individuals who seek to hurt our forces and attack our institutions.”
The French National Assembly on Tuesday gave the green light to the government to implement an anti-riot law which would toughen sanctions against undeclared protests and troublemakers who use rallies to challenge public safety.
Proposed in the wake of violent “yellow vest” protests that plunged Paris, two months ago, into its worst civil unrest in decades, the bill allows prefects, or local state security officials to ban people deemed to pose a threat to public safety.
Furthermore, the bill makes covering the face during a protest an offence, with those who do not respect it risk to be jailed one year and pay a fine of 15,000 euros. It also allows police to search bags and cars in the immediate vicinity of a demonstration. Enditem