Two days after the announcements by French President Emmanuel Macron in response to the social crisis, the Yellow Vests on Saturday aimed at remobilizing across the country.
All eyes were turned on Strasbourg, where several hundred protesters converged quietly at midday towards the Place de l’Etoile, not far from the city center. The organisers of this “national and international event” hoped to attract protesters from Germany and Belgium to the city which is the seat of the European Parliament.
A German flag was in fact spotted among the French flags, French daily Le Figaro reported. Protesters were flanked by dozens of police vehicles deployed to protect the neighboring municipal buildings.
The Bas-Rhin prefecture had banned all demonstrations in certain areas of the historic center of the city, on the square of the station as well as around the European institutions – the European Parliament but also the European Court of Human Rights and Council of Europe.
On Saturday, April 20, some 28 000 Yellow Vest protesters marched throughout France, according to the Ministry of the Interior, but it was actually 100 000 according to their own count.
The scale of this new mobilization has authorities worried. On Friday, Interior Minister Christophe Castaner lamented that reactions to the announcements by Emmanuel Macron were “already written” before the intervention of the Head of State. “Anyway, I’m not sure of (their) demands, because I do not know any more, if they had even waited for any answer,” added the minister.
The last Yellow Vests were dispersed on Saturday in Strasbourg in the early evening after clashes with police, an event marked by 42 arrests, “numerous degradations” and seven reported injuries, according to the prefecture of Bas-Rhin.
At the Place de l’Etoile, not far from the center, the procession of 2 000 demonstrators (according to the prefecture) tried until the middle of the afternoon, without success, to reach European institutions.
The security forces barred the roads, continuously firing tear gas grenades, while a helicopter of the gendarmerie was tirelessly circling the sky.
According to the prefecture, “many degradations have been noted (deteriorated and burned items of street furniture, theft of construction equipment, etc.)” during the day. One car was burned, according to the same source.
Around 15:00, the gendarmes, after several summons, prevented the procession, blocked off the north of the city, leading to the European Parliament. There was no direct contact between mobile gendarmes, CRS and protesters, some AFP journalists reported.
An hour later, a series of skirmishes broke out again as demonstrators, some dressed in black and masked, came within just tens of meters from the Council of Europe, an institution that brings together 47 countries.
But here again, the police managed to repel Yellow Vests. Some trash fires were lit too. “Lachrymatory fire and dispersal maneuvers were necessary to put an end to these confrontations,” confirmed the Bas-Rhin prefecture in a statement.
In the early evening, the prefecture counted seven wounded, including three police officers, three protesters and a local resident.
The Yellow Vests on social media networks had launched an “international” call to protest in the direction of the European Parliament, one month away from the European elections.
On the periphery highway of Lyon a slow-go was held, in Paris a “march on the media” and in Cambrai (North) a night march. In Toulouse, demonstrations were banned on the Capitol Square from 10:00 to 21:00 but a call for “Yellow Vests in the center” was nevertheless launched for the early afternoon.
In Lille, Rennes or Rouen, demonstrations are also prohibited in the center. In Paris, the prohibited perimeter included the Champs-Elysées, the Elysée, the approaches to the National Assembly and Notre-Dame.
Protesters already seriously injured by the police, a majority of whom were scarred during the rallies of the movement, announced on Sunday, April 28, that they would be forming a collective, calling for a large national demonstration to Paris, on May 26.
They have become the symbol of a repressive, violent administration with regard to its opponents. “The mutilated for example” will form a collective reported Le Parisien. “We decided to form a collective, ‘mutilated for example’,” said Robin Pagès at a press conference. He has been handicapped since a serious foot injury in 2017 in Bure, in the Meuse.
If the Yellow Vests count on May 1 to boost to the movement, the police fear, in parallel, a massive action by the black block.
In the ranks of law enforcement, they are preparing for the big coming rally. After the measures set out last Thursday night by Emmanuel Macron, which have apparently not appeased the wrath of the demonstrators, the intelligence services remain on high alert.
The Minister of the Interior, Christophe Castaner, denounced a “ritual of violence” at the rallies. “It involves questioning the President of the Republic, systematically. Their only desire is to bring down our institutions,” he said indignantly.
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