A diminished Yellow Jackets movement on Saturday showed it was nonetheless determined to make citizen anger felt in the streets of Paris as it marked the one-year anniversary of its first protest.
Police expected several thousand protesters in the French capital, a far cry from the hundreds of thousands who in earlier weeks swarmed into cities and towns around France from the countryside to protest rising fuel costs.
However, Action 53 — marking the 53rd weekend of protests — had the same hallmarks of destruction and clashes with police as earlier demonstrations. By early afternoon Saturday, Paris’ Place d’Italie was in flames, a section of the city’s peripheral highway had been momentarily blocked and police had arrested several dozen protesters, including one of the founding activists, Thierry Paul Valette, according to BFMTV.
After launching in November 2018, protesters took to the streets weekly — and while their numbers gradually sagged, they had a concrete impact.
As their rampages scared off tourists and impinged on the Christmas 2018 shopping season, French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire in December said they were creating an “economic catastrophe,” and President Emmanuel Macron withdrew his plans for a carbon tax, the original impetus for the protests. Five months later, he announced a “national debate” to collect public opinion on matters like taxation, public services and shifting toward a greener economy.
“This period has changed me,” Macron told reporters in April as he announced a series of reforms aimed at addressing some Yellow Jacket anxieties, while rejecting core demands like a new tax on the rich.
In a poll published Wednesday, 55 percent of respondents generally support the Yellow Jacket protests. However, a greater proportion, 66 percent, don’t want to see the demonstrations ramp up again.
On Saturday, protesters headed toward the Place de la Bastille, while firefighters dodged projectiles as they responded to flames at the Place d’Italie — police barred a march slated to begin from the roundabout, citing violence. Hundreds of other actions were planned around the country.
Distrust between police and citizens is one of the legacies of the Yellow Jacket protests, said David Le Bars, head of the French police commissioners’ union.
“Nothing will be like before in the relationship between the police and a certain part of the population,” Le Bars told Franceinfo on Saturday. “Parts of society are about to fracture.”