French police fired tear gas and arrested more than 250 people in Paris as protesters “yellow vests” returned in force to the streets of the capital for the first time since the coronavirus lockdown.
The movement of “yellow vests”, named after high visibility jackets for motorists, began in late 2018 to protest against fuel taxes and economic reform, posing a great challenge to President Emmanuel Macron as protests spread throughout France.
On Saturday, hundreds of demonstrators gathered at the starting points of two authorized marches.
As one procession left without incident, the other march was delayed as police ran into groups leaving the designated route and set fire to trash cans and a car.
Some demonstrators wore black clothes and carried the flag of an anti-fascist movement, suggesting the presence of radical demonstrators nicknamed “black blocs” often accused of violence during street marches in France.
Police arrested 256 people at 6 p.m. (4 p.m. GMT), many for transporting items such as tools that could be used as weapons, including screwdrivers, ice axes and knives.
The return of the protest movement comes as France grapples with a resurgence of coronavirus cases.
Daily COVID-19 cases in country hit record high out of nearly 10,000 Thursday.
A day later, French Prime Minister Jean Castex announced plans to speed up testing and toughen measures in some cities as the government seeks to avoid a repeat of the nationwide lockdown earlier this year.
Police called on protesters to respect coronavirus measures in Paris, which is one of the high-risk “red zones” in France and where it is mandatory to wear a face mask in the street.
Home Secretary Gerald Darmanin announced slightly stricter rules on how police use controversial rubber bullets and other crowd control weapons before the marches on Friday.
Officers must now ask supervisors for permission to fire the projectiles, which are responsible for the injuries. Jerome Rodrigues has become a prominent leader after losing an eye on a police rubber bullet during a protest.
Commenting on the relatively low turnout on Saturday, Michael, a 43-year-old protester in the crowd at Wagram Square, told AFP news agency: “The movement is dead, I’ll make it clear, but we are here. because we have nothing to lose. It’s kind of a last fight. ”
Another protester, a 50-year-old civil servant who asked to remain anonymous, said “social and economic thefts” and “our growing fundamental freedoms. [coming] attacked ”took him to the street.
Retirees Pascale and Patrick, who had traveled to Paris from Crolles in south-eastern France, said they were sure “the movement is not running out of steam”.
Veterans of the demonstrations at roundabouts in provincial towns, the two men declared that they “do not want this world for our children and grandchildren, where we are subjugated by this oligarchy”.
“We are anti-capitalists, anti-system, old hippies and yellow vests,” they said.
Elsewhere in France, several hundred “yellow vests” demonstrators gathered in the southwestern city of Toulouse in defiance of a ban that would have been imposed by the authorities for the risk of coronavirus infection.
Police attempted to disperse the group with tear gas, a scene comparable to Lyon, while people also gathered in Bordeaux and other towns.
“I did not support the yellow vests at first, but the situation only got worse for the poor people. Nothing has changed after two years of struggle, ”said a 53-year-old man calling himself Dodo during the demonstration in Toulouse.