French ‘yellow vests’ marching for everyone, protester says as support falls

Protesters wearing yellow vests hold French flags and a safety flare during a demonstration by the "yellow vests" movement in Paris, France, February 16, 2019. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

France’s “yellow vest” protests are part of a humanist movement aimed at improving the lives of everyone in the country, one demonstrator said on Saturday, defending those who took to the streets for the 14th weekend in a row.

A poll this week showed dwindling support for the demonstrations, named for motorists’ high-visibility jackets, which began in November over fuel taxes and morphed into a more general revolt against politicians and a government they see as out of touch.

More than half of those surveyed said they wanted the occasionally violent protests to end.

“I can understand that some people have had enough, but we’re not doing this just for us,” said Madeleine, a 33-year old unemployed protester. “It’s a very humanist movement and we’re doing this for everyone. So if right now they’re fed up, then too bad for them.”

There has been infighting between leaders of the grassroots movement, although some have outlined plans to extend the weekly protests to Sunday.

The number of protesters have fallen from highs of over 300,000 nationwide in November to around 50,000 last week, according to government estimates.

French interior ministry said around 10,200 protesters took part in demonstrations across the country by 1300 GMT on Saturday, including 3,000 in the capital, compared with 4,000 in Paris last week.

Late in the afternoon, police and some hooded protesters clashed at the Esplanade des Invalides in central Paris where the march was expected to end.

Police fired tear gas and charged, to disperse projectile-throwing demonstrators.

Earlier on Saturday, protesters gathered at the symbolic rallying point at the Arc de Triomphe, a flashpoint of clashes with the police in the early days of the protest, before marching towards the Eiffel Tower and through other majors streets in Paris.

Protests were also held in other major cities including Bordeaux, Strasbourg, Marseille and Lyon with no reports of violence. Protesters tried to block a depot operated by online retail giant Amazon, while others set bins on fire and threw stones at the police in Toulouse, in the south of France, BFM Television reported.