“Yellow vest” protesters on Saturday marched in cities across France for a 16th straight week in a bid to keep up pressure on French President Emmanuel Macron in demonstrations again marred by vandalism and violence.
In Paris, a man was reportedly hit in the face by a rubber bullet fired from a controversial riot control weapon, while in the southwestern city of Bordeaux a lawmaker accused police of assaulting him.
About 39,300 people protested nationwide, including 4,000 in Paris, the French Ministry of the Interior said — down from the 46,600 turnout announced the previous weekend.
The official figures are regularly disputed by protest organizers, who say that the government is trying to portray the movement as losing support.
However, at least one demonstrator in the capital appeared to acknowledge that their numbers were falling.
“We are less numerous than usual, but we are there anyway and that’s essential,” pensioner Murielle said, adding: “We won’t give up, because the situation is not going to improve, that’s for sure.”
Regarding the possible police shooting of a man with a so-called defense ball launcher, known by the French abbreviation LBDs, Paris police chief Michel Delpuech said: “An internal administrative investigation has been opened.”
The weapons fire 40mm rubber projectiles, considered non-lethal, but have been blamed for serious injuries to a number of demonstrators.
Macron last week rejected a call from rights watchdog the Council of Europe to suspend their use.
In Bordeaux, a lawmaker from the far-left France Unbowed party, Loic Prud’homme, said that police had assaulted him with batons on the edges of a march and that he had filed a formal complaint.
The regional governor said that police had intervened to stop protesters taking an unauthorized route and had done their job correctly.
In Nantes, police used rubber bullets, tear gas and water cannon to disperse demonstrators, some of whom hurled projectiles, including Molotov cocktails and bottles containing acid.
“There has been a lot of damage ... bus shelters, a bank branch, a travel agency, a business,” said Claude d’Harcourt, a regional governor for the Nantes area.
There was also trouble in Nice, Strasbourg and Lille, where protesters marched carrying signs and banners saying: “Macron accomplice of the worst scum, finance,” and “Stop capitalist militias.”
Police used tear gas elsewhere in the country, including at protests in Bordeaux, Morlaix, Arles and Lyon.
“Those who are still in the street today will never give up, it’s the hard core,” said one demonstrator at the Lyon protest, a farmer from the region.
On Friday, Macron had repeated a call for calm after weeks of “unacceptable” outbreaks of violence.
The protests have also seen spates of vandalism, with monuments defaced, businesses damaged and cars set alight.
Macron has pledged 10 billion euros (US$11.2 billion) in response to anger over the high cost of living, including tax cuts for some pensioners and measures to boost low wages.
He has also spearheaded a “grand national debate” by way of the Internet and town hall meetings to gather opinions on how the country could be reformed.
This week’s demonstrations had been billed by organizers as a prelude to a “big month” of protests to mark four months of the movement and the end of the debates championed by Macron.
Many yellow vest protesters dismissed the debates as a platform for Macron rather than a forum for real discussion.
The protests, which have no organized leadership and are named after the fluorescent vests that French drivers must keep in vehicles, began on Nov. 17 last year over increasing fuel taxes — later reversed by the government.
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