French police fired tear gas during skirmishes with masked demonstrators in Lyon and Nantes today – the 26th consecutive weekend of ‘yellow vest’ protests against President Emmanuel Macron and his economic reform agenda.
In Nantes, black-hooded demonstrators on the fringes of a largely peaceful protest hurled bottles and smashed shop windows, while in Lyon tear gas swirled as police tried to funnel protesters away from the central Place Bellecour.
Six months after the grassroots rebellion erupted over the high cost of living and Macron’s perceived indifference toward the plight of working class France, the movement is reportedly losing momentum.
Yellow vest numbers dwindled today on the 26th consecutive weekend of protests, marking exactly half a year since the unrest began last November
Police used tear gas on protesters in Lyon, where 5,000 people were expected to turn out for a protest entitled Act 26: Against the privatisation of our public goods
Today’s protest in Lyon, entitled Act 26: Against the privatisation of our public goods, was expected to see 5,000 protesters but according to AFP the number may have been as little as 2,000.
The interior ministry estimated that just 2,700 protesters showed across all of France as of midday today.
The low turnout will be a relief to Macron, little more than two weeks out from European elections.
The far-right, polling neck-and-neck with Macron’s party, is billing the vote as a referendum on his first two years in office.
The prolonged unrest has forced the president into costly policy concessions and put the brakes on his reform timetable, including an overhaul of the pension system this year.
Police and protesters stand in tear gas smoke during the protests today in Lyon. The interior ministry estimated that just 2,700 people had turned up to protest across the entire country as of midday
Yellow vest protesters hold up French flags as well as flags in their signature colour in Bellecourt Square in Lyon
Riot police are seen moving an electric scooter out of the way during the protests in Lyon. The low turn out of protesters will come as a relief to President Macron with little more than two weeks away from European elections
With his authority challenged by the yellow vests, Macron launched his fight back last month, vowing after weeks of national debate to cut taxes and apologising for his occasionally sharp tongue.
He promised €17billion to boost wages and allow for tax cuts for France’s low earners.
Even so, in Nantes today, protesters said Macron’s proposals did not go far enough and lacked detail.
‘The ‘grand debate’ was a smoke screen. Today they’re smoking us out with tear gas,’ said one 43-year-old protester who identified himself as Mickael.
A yellow vest supporter holds a French flag during today’s rainy protest in Paris. President Macron was last month forced to promise wage boosts and lower taxes for France’s low earners following the persistent protests
A protester holds a white flag while standing next to a riot police officer during a demonstration in Paris today. Macron promised €17billion would go towards boosting wages of those with low income in France
‘But we won’t cave in. Yes we’re fewer than at the start, but when the others come back, we’ll still be here and we’ll still be angry.’
Today’s protest in Paris, which has seen some of the worst street violence in decades during the ‘yellow vest’ uprising, was calm. In driving rain, protesters marched under umbrellas, waving placards reading ‘Macron, clear off’.
Protester numbers have dwindled from highs of over 300,000 nationwide at the peak in November to below 30,000 in recent weeks, according to government estimates.
French correspondent John Lichfield told The Local: ‘By my own observation, the yellow vest movement is definitely fading.
‘It will carry on out of stubbornness but it is no longer a credible threat to Macron or French democratic institutions.’
A yellow vest supporter in Nantes holds a sign that reads: ‘Demonstrating is my right’. One protester, Mickael, said: ‘Yes we’re fewer than at the start, but when the others come back, we’ll still be here and we’ll still be angry’
A protester in Nantes talks to a passerby while resting on his bike that carries a sign calling for an RIC – Citizens’ Initiated Referendum
Protesters marching the rainy streets of Paris hold a sign that reads: ‘Strike blocking. Macron get out’