News & Politics

Paris Police Use Water Cannon to Battle Growing Yellow Vest Protests

French riot police advance in a cloud of tear gas during a yellow vest demonstration in Marseille, southern France, Saturday, Jan. 12, 2019. (AP Photo/Claude Paris)

Another weekend, another massive series of protests across France by demonstrators wearing yellow vests, as Paris police were forced to use tear gas and water cannons to keep demonstrators away from the Arc de Triomphe monument.

The government says the protests were larger than last week’s and hundreds of people were arrested.


Thousands of protesters in Paris marched noisily but mostly peacefully through the Grands Boulevards shopping area in northern Paris, close to where a massive gas explosion in a bakery killed two firefighters and a Spanish tourist and injured nearly 50 people early on Saturday.

But small groups of demonstrators broke away from the designated route and threw bottles and other projectiles at the police.

Around the 19th-century Arc de Triomphe at the top of the Champs Elysees boulevard, riot police fired water cannon and tear gas at militant protesters after being pelted with stones and paint, witnesses said.

Groups of protesters also gathered on and around the Champs Elysees, the scene of disturbances in recent weeks, many of them calling loudly for Macron to resign.

“Macron, we are going to tear down your place!” one banner read.

The Interior Ministry estimated that there were a maximum of about 84,000 demonstrators nationwide on Saturday – more than the 50,000 counted last week but well below the record 282,000 estimated on Nov. 17, the first day of the protests.

In Paris, the ministry counted 8,000 demonstrators, more than in the past two weekends, when authorities tallied just 3,500 people on Jan. 5 and only 800 on Dec. 29.

The government has been toughening its rhetoric against the demonstrators in recent weeks and has deployed 80,00 police to contain them.

Bourges authorities said nearly 5,000 yellow vests stuck to the designated demonstration area. The historical city center was off-limits for demonstrators, but some 500 protesters made their way to the center where they scuffled with police and set garbage bins on fire.

Many businesses in Bourges had boarded themselves up to avoid damage and authorities had removed street furniture and building site materials that could be used for barricades.

In Strasbourg, up to 2,000 demonstrators gathered in front of the European Parliament building and later marched to the center of the city on the Rhine river border with Germany. No serious violence or looting was reported there.

More than 80,000 police were on duty for the protests nationwide, including 5,000 in Paris.

Certainly the government needs to keep order and crack down on the violence, but realistically, what can Macron possibly do to take the fire out of the protests?

Short of resigning, nothing. This is a protest against a system, not necessarily a man. The focus of anger by the protesters may be Macron and his policies but this is an existential crisis of the French middle class. Their concerns are belittled by the elites and ignored by politicians. They are called “fascists” or just stupid for supporting the nationalist parties.

They are pushing back against the tide and have befuddled those in power because they are inured to the scraps being thrown them by Macron. It may not end in revolution, but big changes are coming and the elites have the choice of riding this wave of history or being inundated by it.