Yellow Vest mobilization is on the rise, with 84 000 demonstrators counted by the Ministry of the Interior this weekend in Act IX of the French movement. Many clashes between protesters and law enforcement broke out, and more than a hundred arrests took place in Paris.
Three days before the “great national debate”, marches started in several major cities, including Paris and Bourges, the new epicenter of Yellow Vests, according to BFMTV.
The police had to make use of water canons in the capital, where 156 people were arrested, in particular for “possession of a prohibited weapon” and “participation in a group with the intention to commit violence”.
Many wounded are also counted in the Paris region: two people are in a critical condition, including a member of the police. In addition, 22 people have been seriously wounded, including a member of the police.
Protesters gathered in small groups in the Champs-Elysees area. There, clashes erupted between police and Yellow Vests. Banners reading “Free Christophe”, a reference to the former boxer Christophe Dettinger, who is in custody for hitting two gendarmes last Saturday, was spotted in the march.
“Benalla in prison! Macron resign!” were also heard in the range of slogans chanted. The demonstrators responded to the call of Eric Drouet, one of the movement’s top figures.
Bourges (Cher) was also the scene of clashes. Announced in the week as an important meeting place for Act IX, this prefecture of only 66 000 inhabitants was chosen because it is central and therefore easily accessible to the greatest number of protesters, said the organisers.
Some 4 700 people marched quietly through the city, while firefighters intervened in particular to douse garbage fires. Despite a ban, about 500 Yellow Vests demonstrated in the historic center. At least 18 people were arrested in the city and surrounding areas since this morning.
Several other large French cities such as Nîmes, Bordeaux, Caen or Strasbourg also witnessed Yellow Vests. In Rouen, two or three police officers in plain clothes were reportedly beaten by demonstrators.
The authorities have raised the level of mobilization of the police, with 80 000 police and gendarmes deployed country-wide.
French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner meanwhile had raised the stakes in the rhetorical war by asserting that anyone who participates in a Yellow Vest demonstration is complicit in all the violence that is committed by a small number of demonstrators.
Marine Le Pen, the leader of Rassemblement National [National Rally, formerly Front National], responded by reminding Castaner of the collective French memory of what happens when political leaders travel down this road of ignoring the plight of ordinary people.
“Public and constitutional freedoms must be respected by all, also by the Minister of the Interior,” Le Pen tweeted.
Since the beginning of the movement of the yellow vests, Marine Le Pen has been leading in the polls for the European elections. Unlike the Jean-Luc Mélenchon and the Republicans of Laurent Wauquiez, Le Pen has been gathering huge support.
“The crisis of Yellow Vests benefits only Marine Le Pen, not at all the other opposition,” a member of the Republicains complained recently.
In fact, since the beginning of the movement, nobody among the opponents of Emmanuel Macron really managed to ride the wave, except Le Pen, according to the polls.
A poll by Ifop/Paris Match on Tuesday confirmed this dynamic: the RN now appears as the party that best embodies the opposition (for 35 percent of respondents) and exceeds the left for the first time since the beginning of the five-year mandate.
Marine Le Pen told a small committee recently: “All the proposals that we have made are consistent with those we hear today, whether on taxes, the challenge of the economic model, proportionals or even bank charges.”
Surprisingly, Marine Le Pen has never worn a yellow jacket, while the boss of the mainstream Republicans party, Wauquiez did so and then denied doing it.
“We have understood the essence of this movement: it is horizontal, it’s those who want to live an ordinary life and do not want to be part of anything. We had the decency and the intelligence not to claim it,” explains Philippe Olivier, a close adviser to Marine Le Pen.
Her party officials prefer to stick to claims on purchasing power, taxation or public services and most importantly, immigration.
“A lot of proposals of the Yellow Vests were in our presidential program,” says Jordan Bardella, a 23-year-old RN regional councilor, top of the list for European elections.