France's 'yellow vest' protesters seek return to centre stage

Protesters have regularly accused police of heavy-handed tactics that left hundreds of people with injuries.
Protesters have regularly accused police of heavy-handed tactics that left hundreds of people with injuries.PHOTO: REUTERS

PARIS (AFP) - French authorities are bracing for a return this weekend of "yellow vest" protests against President Emmanuel Macron, accused of favouring the rich while ignoring the day-to-day struggles of millions.

Nearly two years since the movement erupted in autumn 2018 over a fuel tax hike, new rallies are planned Saturday in Paris as well as Marseille, Lyon, Toulouse, Strasbourg and other main cities.

While the protests tapered off during the Covid-19 pandemic and the summer holidays, organisers say the anger that drove tens of thousands into the streets still smoulders.

Mr Jerome Rodrigues, who emerged as a prominent leader after losing an eye to a police rubber bullet during a protest, called on social media for "total civil disobedience".

"I encourage you not to show any ID cards if asked, even if it means spending four hours at the police station. Between losing an eye and pissing them off, choose civil disobedience," he wrote.

The protesters have regularly accused police of heavy-handed tactics that left hundreds of people with injuries, some of them serious.

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said that security forces would be equipped with a new type of sting-ball grenade that is supposed to be less dangerous for dispersing unruly crowds.

He also said that police would have to get a supervisor's approval for shooting rubber bullets from so-called defensive ball launchers (LBDs), which critics have sought to have outlawed.

Police sources say up to 5,000 protesters are expected in the capital, including some 1,000 who potentially could turn violent, and authorities have already outlawed rallies on the Champs-Elysees.

 
 

The avenue was the focal point for yellow vests initially, with rallies often spiralling into running battles with police and extensive vandalism, including store lootings and arson attacks on cars and news kiosks.

Authorities in the southwestern city of Toulouse have outlawed yellow vest rallies outright, citing the prohibition of mass gatherings during the coronavirus outbreak.