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March 22, 2019

France's 'yellow vest' protesters return to streets

France's 'yellow vest' protesters return to streets
'Hundreds of 'yellow vest' protesters took to the Champs-Elysees on Saturday' - By: AFP Lucas BARIOULET

France's "yellow vest" protesters were back on the streets again Saturday as a government spokesman denounced those still protesting as hard-liners who wanted only to bring down the government.

Around a thousand protesters gathered on the Champs-Elysees in central Paris, where around 15 police wagons were also deployed, an AFP journalist said.

Some paused outside the headquarters of Agence France-Presse (AFP) in central Paris to hurl anti-media insults.

Police fired tear gas in the capital after protesters threw projectiles at police and AFP journalists saw minor scuffles near the River Seine as up to 4,000 joined the fray in the city by the afternoon, according to police.

Some protesters set bins ablaze and material damage included several burned out motorcycles strewn across streets.

"I am here to defend the right of my children to work that enables them to eat. My daughter earns 800 euros ($911) a month. She works 25 hours a week in a baker's. For her, it's about surviving," said one protester, 58-year-old Ghislaine.

Several other cities across France also saw small marches -- including up to 2,000 in Rouen northwest of Paris, where at least two arrests were made and one protester was hurt by a projectile after demonstrators set fire to a barricade.

The scale and intensity of the protests has shrivelled in recent weeks, however, and authorities put Saturday's nationwide turnout at around 12,000, compared with 282,000 for the initial rally on November 17.

Public anger has on occasion been directed at the media, seen by some as too close to the government. Several journalists have been assaulted since the protests called by the grass-roots movement started in November.

Last Saturday saw scuffles in Paris between some demonstrators denouncing media "collaborators" and police outside the headquarters of broadcasters BFMTV and France Televisions.

Police made four arrests Friday evening in the northeastern city of Nancy after some 50 demonstrators tried to block the entrance of newspaper L'Est Republicain.

On Friday, government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux denounced those still protesting as "agitators who want insurrection and, basically, to overthrow the government".

The midweek Paris arrest of Eric Drouet, one the movement's spokesman, sparked anger among his supporters. Drouet already faces trial for carrying a weapon at a previous demonstration.

The latest opinion poll, published on Thursday by Odoxa Dentsu, indicated 55 percent public support for the "yellow vest" protests.

The government has deployed police around France to deal with the protests, backed up by specialist response units, sources told AFP.

The "yellow vest" demonstrations -- named after the high-visibility jackets worn by the protesters -- began in rural France over increased fuel taxes.

The movement ballooned into a wider revolt against President Emmanuel Macron's pro-market policies and governing style.

Macron initially refused to make any concessions, but in mid-December, after weeks of violence, he scrapped the planned fuel tax rises and promised extra cash for minimum wage earners and tax cuts for pensioners.

The protests have caused the biggest political crisis of his 20-month presidency.

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