French Police Crack Down on ‘Yellow Vests’ With Tear Gas and Over a Thousand Arrests

 nytimes.com  12/8/2018 7:02:38 PM  5  Adam Nossiter, Alissa J. Rubin and Aurelien Breeden
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French riot police apprehending a protester in a street near Saint Lazare train station in Paris.CreditCreditStephane Mahe/Reuters

PARIS — A fourth weekend of antigovernment protests in France turned violent again on Saturday, with demonstrators in Paris burning cars and ripping down barricades from store fronts, while the riot police fired tear gas and water cannons to control the crowds.

The so-called Yellow Vests descended on the capital by the thousands, even as the police turned out in force, blocking off roads and monuments.

Nearly 1,400 people were arrested nationwide. In Paris, many were detained before they could even reach the central site of the demonstrations along Paris’s main artery, the Champs-Élysées.

The huge police presence in the capital — absent last Saturday — appeared far more able to contain the violence. The show of force reflected a change from preceding weeks, with law enforcement often engaging with the vandals before they could act.

Ignited by a fuel tax, the “Yellow Vest” movement has been gaining momentum over the past four weeks. Protesters have made their way from France’s countryside to Paris, and some are demanding the president’s resignation.Published OnCreditCreditChristian Hartmann/Reuters

“The situation is under control even though there are still some hot spots in the provinces,” Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said Saturday evening.

“The escalation of violence has been brought to a stopping point,” he added, crediting the more mobile strategy of the police. The violence, while contained, was “totally unacceptable,” he said.

The minister said 118 demonstrators and 17 police officers were injured nationwide on Saturday. Last week, about 200 protesters were injured, as well as more than 200 police officers, the interior ministry said.

Since the demonstrations began four weeks ago, four people have died.

The Yellow Vests take their name from the fluorescent hazard vests adopted by the protesters as a sign of their economic distress.

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Tear gas floated around protesters on the Champs-Elysees.CreditLucas Barioulet/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Initially, their ranks were filled by members of the working poor from rural areas and urban outskirts, who were dismayed by a planned increase in a fuel tax, which the government canceled this past week in a retreat.

But that did not quell the outrage, which has morphed into much broader anger at President Emmanuel Macron’s economic policies, and France’s declining living standards.

The Yellow Vests have inspired copycat demonstrations elsewhere, including in the Netherlands, Hungary and neighboring Belgium.

About 100 people were detained in Belgium on Saturday as the police used tear gas and water cannons against at least 1,000 protesters who threw stones and smashed street signs and traffic lights.

“Yellow Vests” demonstrators marching down the Champs-Élysées on Saturday. The protests have been centered in the French capital.CreditThibault Camus/Associated Press

In Paris, a planned climate march by environmentalists in support of policies to slow global warming drew about 17,000 people, more than the Yellow Vest protests, according to the government.

That demonstration was supposed to be held not far from some of the Yellow Vest protest areas, but was moved to another part of Paris.

President Trump weighed in on the riots in several tweets; one said it may be time to do away with the Paris climate change accord, from which the United States has withdrawn.

“Very sad day & night in Paris,” he said. “Maybe it’s time to end the ridiculous and extremely expensive Paris Agreement and return money back to the people in the form of lower taxes?”

About 89,000 security forces were deployed across the country on Saturday, including 8,000 in Paris, compared with 4,600 a week earlier.CreditBenoit Tessier/Reuters

Édouard Philippe, the French prime minister, said Mr. Macron would speak early next week to address the movement. The president has been criticized for remaining silent about the protests.

Around the country, more than 125,000 people turned out for mostly peacefully demonstrations in cities including Marseille, Nice and Nantes, the authorities said.

But later in the day, clashes broke out in Bordeaux and Toulouse, where protesters set makeshift barricades on fire.

Overall, the number of protesters nationwide has dwindled since more than 280,000 turned out the first weekend on Nov. 17, according to the French authorities.

There was concern on Saturday that more hard-core and violent elements would hijack the “Yellow Vests’ demonstrations, whose ranks were initially filled by members of the working poor from rural areas.CreditStephane Mahe/Reuters

This week was the lowest turnout since the movement began. And in Paris, the unrest did not rise to the level of last weekend’s protests, the country’s worst urban unrest in decades.

But some of the dire warnings about violence from French officials did come to pass.

By midafternoon in Paris, more radical elements and professional vandals — known as “casseurs,” or “breakers” — had ripped down plywood barricades that had been placed over the windows of nearly every business in hopes of preventing smashing and looting.

The Champs-Élysées was quickly covered in tear gas, and hundreds of people beat a hasty retreat down the avenue.

In some areas, the casseurs — young men dressed in black — could easily be distinguished from the Yellow Vests, often middle-aged men from the countryside.

Around France, some 31,000 took to the streets, according to the authorities, including in cities like Marseille.CreditClaude Paris/Associated Press

In at least two instances on the Champs-Élysées, Yellow Vests replaced protective boards ripped down from shop windows by the casseurs.

And Yellow Vests looked on in horror and bemusement as vandals smashed in the windows of a sporting-goods store and made off with boxes of sneakers on one chic avenue around the Arc de Triomphe.

“This is just madness,” said a middle-aged Yellow Vest, Franck Morlat, a train driver who had traveled from central France. “Totally unacceptable.”

Others around him looked disgusted.

As protesters were smashing in windows with golf clubs, an ambulance driver and Yellow Vest who gave her name only as Stephanie said: “Sure it’s sad. But if it hadn’t come to this, nothing would change.”

Demonstrators clashed with the police in Brussels.CreditYves Herman/Reuters

Demonstrators tried to set fire to a drugstore on the Champs-Élysées, placing burning Christmas trees against the facade. A line of police officers charged down the avenue, dispersing the crowd and knocking down barricades hastily erected by small groups of demonstrators.

The melees were punctuated by shouts of “Macron Resign,” impromptu bursts of the French national anthem, and curses spat at the police and members of the news media.

Elsewhere in the city, a car burned out of control as the police moved in to chase away the vandals. A line of armored vehicles moved down a boulevard, trying to disperse stone-throwing casseurs and to break up barricades.

Police officers on horseback charged a group of vandals set to wreak havoc on a business-lined street at the edge of the historic Marais district.

Workers on Friday installing panels to protect a window display decorated for the Christmas season at the Printemps department store in anticipation of more protests.CreditCharles Platiau/Reuters

“This time they gave themselves the means to master the casseurs,” said Christian Mouhanna, a police expert at the National Center for Scientific Research.

“Why, the last time, did they let the casseurs get away with so much?” Mr. Mouhanna asked. “They saw that that strategy didn’t work.”

About 89,000 members of the security forces were deployed across the country on Saturday, including 8,000 in Paris, compared with 4,600 a week earlier.

In a rare step, the gendarmerie, one of the country’s two national police forces, deployed 12 armored vehicles in the French capital, a sign of the authorities’ nervousness.

Still recovering from last week’s violence and destruction, several parts of Paris were in a near state of lockdown on Saturday, especially around locations like the Élysée presidential palace and the Champs-Élysées.CreditRafael Yaghobzadeh/Associated Press

At the start of the day in Paris, eight police vehicles blocked access to the Arc de Triomphe, a quasi-sacred national symbol that was defaced last weekend.

The police also hemmed in demonstrators at the other end of the Champs-Élysées, near the seat of the French presidency and the Place de la Concorde.

Police detachments were set up at all major central Paris intersections. Stores and dozens of city buildings as well as most monuments and museums were closed, even those far from the protest areas, including the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre and the Musée d’Orsay.

The city’s two opera houses canceled Saturday shows. More than 35 subway stops were closed.

City workers removed more than 2,000 metal gratings, construction barriers and other items to prevent them from being used as weapons or as barricades. Officials also recommended that people move their vehicles and bicycles from protest areas. Residents of many wealthier neighborhoods in Paris left as a precaution.

Elsewhere in France, the authorities also took steps to prevent violence.

The top French soccer league postponed six games across the country, including in Paris, Toulouse, Angers and Nîmes.

Museums were closed in Bordeaux, and the city of Lyon took extra security measures for its annual Light Festival.

Throughout Saturday, the determination of the protesters in Paris did not change, nor had their motivation.

“We drove all night,” said Julien Lezer, an electrician from the Var region, on the Mediterranean. “We don’t agree with the current system anymore; it doesn’t represent us.”

“It’s not in the regions that things change,” he continued. “It’s in Paris. It’s when the people from the regions go to Paris that the politicians listen.”

Axelle Cavalheiro, who works with disabled people, came from the Ain, near Lyon.

“We are overtaxed,” she said. “There are taxes on everything, gas.”

“At the Élysée,’’ she added, referring to the presidential palace, ‘‘they spend 300,000 euros on carpeting, 10,000 a month for the hairdresser.’’

Elian Peltier contributed reporting from Paris, and David Shimer from Brussels.

Follow Aurelien Breeden and Elian Peltier on Twitter: @aurelienbrd and @ElianPeltier.

A version of this article appears in print on , on Page A13 of the New York edition with the headline: France Cracks Down on ‘Yellow Vests’ in 4th Weekend of Violence. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe
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