French “yellow vests” turned out for a sixth Saturday of protests three days from Christmas, targeting border points as a fatal road accident brought the death toll to 10 since the movement began last month.
A total of 38,600 people took part in protests across the country, well down from the 66,000 who protested the previous week, the French Ministry of the Interior said.
There were 220 people detained nationwide on Saturday, 81 of whom were taken into police custody, it added.
The number of demonstrators has been trending downward since 282,000 people turned out for the first protest on Nov. 17 against planned fuel tax hikes.
The movement, characterized by the high-visibility yellow vests worn by the protesters, then morphed into a widespread demonstration against French President Emmanuel Macron’s policies and style of governing.
Macron’s government was “in step with the demands of the yellow vests,” French Minister of Health Agnes Buzyn told Le Journal du Dimanche, as she called for “a more constructive dialogue.”
French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe told the newspaper that his relationship with Macron has only “intensified” during the crisis, rather than become strained, as has been reported.
“We talk a lot. We tell each other things,” he said.
Saturday’s numbers were a sharp drop from last week, when Macron, a pro-business centrist, gave in to some of the movement’s demands.
In Paris, the scene of fierce clashes during previous demonstrations, about 2,000 protesters joined rallies scattered around the city, compared with 4,000 the previous week, police said.
There had been a “real slowdown,” but some people “continue to come and protest, driven by hatred of institutions,” French Minister of the Interior Christophe Castaner said.
As evening fell, violence broke out on the Champs-Elysees, where many shops had remained open for business in the busy weekend before Christmas.
Paris police said 142 people were detained and 19 were taken into custody, including a yellow vest leader, Eric Drouet.
A Facebook event organized by Drouet had listed thousands of people “interested” in joining a demonstration at the Versailles Palace outside Paris, but only about 60 showed up.
Government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux tweeted that behind the violence was “a single face, cowardly, racist, anti-Semitic, putschist.”
He denounced the decapitation of an effigy of Macron, violent attacks on police after an officer’s motorcycle was taken by protesters on the Champs-Elysees, and protesters singing a song by comedian and political activist Dieudonne, who has been convicted for anti-Semitic insults.
Near the border between France and Spain hundreds of protesters disrupted traffic as they gathered around a toll booth.
Police fired tear gas to disperse the protesters who retreated to a bridge, a photographer at the scene said.
Two journalists covering the demonstration for France 2 TV said they were “violently” attacked by the protesters.
Editor Anne Domy said that she and her colleague Audrey Guiraud were “targeted, chased and beaten by a crowd of protesters that completely surrounded us.”
One protester helped the two journalists escape in a “hail of insults,” she said.
The media have been frequent targets of the movement’s ire.
Roadblocks were also reported near the border with Italy and at a bridge in Strasbourg near the German border.
While the demonstrations were mainly calm compared with the Paris riots earlier in the month, there were concerns about their effect on pre-Christmas sales.
Stores reported an average decline of 25 percent in sales compared with the same period a year earlier, French Junior Minister of Economy Agnes Pannier-Runacher said.
A driver died overnight when his car slammed into the back of a truck stopped at a roadblock set up by protesters at an autoroute entrance in Perpignan on the Mediterranean coast, French prosecutor Jean-Jacques Fagni told reporters.
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