PARIS (Reuters) – French "yellow vests" marched on Saturday through Paris and other cities to protest the high cost of living and the supposed indifference of President Emmanuel Macron, whose government this week hardened their stance against them.
The street protests began peacefully in the French capital, but were degenerated later in the afternoon as the demonstrators threw rockets at the riot police barricading bridges across the Seine and garbage cans on the dazzling boulevard Saint Germain.
Despite tense argument, the magnitude of the violence was far from the level seen in early December when Rioters ran amok in the city, setting fire to dozens of cars, looting shops in posh neighborhoods, and destroying the Arc de Triomphe ,
Officers fired tear gas to prevent hundreds of demonstrators crossing the river and reaching the National Assembly. A riverboat restaurant was set ablaze and a policeman wounded when hit by a bicycle thrown from a road over the riverbank.
Two months after they began to block roads, occupy highway roads, and sometimes stage violent street demonstrations in Paris, the yellow vests attempted to give a new impetus to a movement that weakened during the holidays.
Shaken by the riots, the Macron government launched the New Year offensive and branded the remaining demonstrators as agitators seeking to overthrow the government. The police arrested one of the prominent figures of the movement on Wednesday evening.
Rioting is anger among workers and the lower middle class over the shortage of income and the belief that Macron is deaf to citizens' needs as he carries out reforms that are believed to favor the rich.
"You have no right to let us down the shit," said protestor Francois Cordier. "We are sick of having to pay all the time, we have had enough of this slavery, we should be able to live off our salaries."
There was also skirmishing between police and protesters in the northern harbor city of Caen. In Bordeaux to the southwest, in Rouen in the north and in Marseille in the southeast, thousands more protesters rallied, although the numbers were far below the turnout in the first weeks of the protests.
"WORK ON THE PEOPLE"
The protests – 18 months after Macron's term in office and his quest to rebuild the economy – have already imposed concessions on the 41-year-old president.
Last month, Macron promised tax cuts for retirees, pay raises for the poorest workers, and the abolition of planned fuel tax hikes to stem the turmoil and cost the Treasury $ 10 billion ($ 11 billion).
The measures marked the first big turnaround for a president who was elected on a platform 18 months earlier to break with traditional French politics and liberalize the heavily regulated Eurozone economy.
In a New Year's Eve speech, Macron vowed to continue his reform agenda, saying, "We can not work less, earn more, lower taxes, and increase spending."
Faced With record low ratings, Macron is expected to write a letter to the nation shortly, setting its plans for the coming months. This includes a nationwide debate with citizens on environmental, tax and institutional issues, the results of which will feed into the policy-making process.
"We need to give people power and not a minority that serves their own interests," said a second protester in front of the old stock exchange building.
(1 USD = 0.8777 Euro)
Report by Richard Lough, Elizabeth Pineau and Johnny Cotton; Letter from Richard Lough; Editing by David Evans