News & Politics

French Government's Stance Against Yellow Vest Protests Hardens as Clashes Enter 13th Week

Vehicles burn during a protest in Paris, Saturday, Jan. 5, 2019. French security forces fired tear gas and flash-bang ammunition at protesters during a march through picturesque central Paris on Saturday as several thousand supporters of the yellow vest movement kept up pressure on President Emmanuel Macron with the first action of 2019. (AP Photo/Kamil Zihnioglu)

Once again, the streets of Paris and other major French cities were rocked by violent protests as thousands of demonstrators took to the streets for the 13th straight weekend to show their anger at the administration of President Emmanuel Macron.

The protests this weekend appear larger, although more peaceful, as participation in the demonstrations dropped off over the holidays. Still, there were significant confrontations between riot police and the gilets jaunes protesters in the wealthy shopping district of Boulevard Saint-Germain.


As darkness fell, officers dispersed scores of yellow vests gathered on the Champs Elysees. Television images showed hooded youths setting a car alight on a side street, but there was no repeat of the unrest that erupted in late November, when shops were looted, banks vandalized and the Arc de Triomphe defaced.

Authorities have blamed the worst of the violence in recent weeks on anarchists, anti-capitalists and extreme groups on the fringes of the yellow vest movement.

That’s a change from November when the government blamed the right for the violence.


Interior Minister Christophe Castaner accused protesters of being influenced by the leader of the far-right National Rally party, Marine Le Pen. But she accused him, on Twitter, of dishonesty.

There are signals being sent by the government that a more aggressive stand against the protests might be forthcoming.

The sometimes violent protests over the cost of living have brought disruption and destruction to Paris and other major cities and forced Macron to make concessions, including scrapping a planned fuel tax rise.

Since then attendance at the protests has dwindled – some tallies put the turnout on Dec. 29 at 12,000, below the 40,000 the previous Saturday – but many demonstrators have said they will carry on.

“Since these announcements, the yellow vest movement, for those who continue to protest, has become the thing of agitators who promote insurrection to topple the government,” Griveaux told reporters.

“We must take the desire of the French for change to its fullest because it is this desire which brought us to power,” he said. “Maybe we have made too many concessions to conservatism, we’ll have to change that.”

“Agitators” who “promote insurrection”? Some of those protesters — perhaps most — want more “concessions to conservationism.” They want more economic liberty, not more taxes and a stifling of the economy.

Thirteen weeks in and Macron still doesn’t get it.