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23.03.2019 Europe

Gilets jaunes: Acte XIX: No Champs, no problem

By Paul Myers - RFI
REUTERS/Benoit Tessier
MAR 23, 2019 EUROPE

A ring of steel gilttered in the early spring sunshine around the Champs-Elysées in Paris on Saturday as security forces blocked access to one of the world's most famous avenues in an attempt to prevent gilets jaunes (yellow vest) protesters vandalising boutiques and restaurants for a second consecutive weekend.

But despite the exclusion zone, around 3,000 protesters gathered in Paris for a 9km hike to highlight their opposition to the policies of Emmanuel Macron's government.

On 16 March, the 18th straight week of demonstrations, Fouquet's cafe along the Champs-Elysées was set alight, shops were ransacked and several newspaper kiosks were destroyed during skirmishes between police and demonstrators.

In response to the violence, the interior minister, Christophe Castaner dismissed Paris's top policemen Michel Delpuech.

His replacement, Didier Lallement, said during an early morning visit on Saturday to the Champs-Elysées: "Authorised marches are, of course, perfectly acceptable and they will be accompanied by police along their way to make sure everything goes fine.

"Anyone assembling for a march which hasn't been authorised will be stopped and sent away. If they persist in coming bck, they will be fined."

Part of Lallement's crackdown was an exclusion zone around the traditional gilets jaunes rallying points at the Assemblée Nationale building and La Place de L'Etoile - leading to the Champs-Elysées.

As a result, Denfert-Rochereau, in the south of the city, was designated as a meeting point for the march to Montmartre in the north.

Provocation
"It would be asking for it to go via the Champs-Elysées after all the security that's been called in," said one demonstrator Jean-Paul Tonson.

The first wave of an estimated 3,000 marchers arrived on the grass verges just below Sacré-Coeur cathedral at 3pm. The main bulk arrived 40 minutes later.

"The atmosphere is far less tense than last week," said RFI reporter Pierre Olivier. "Protesters were singing. They were shouting: “Macron, resign” and firing off insults to the police. But there was no violence."

Outside Paris, official figures said just over 5,000 people took to the streets. In Toulouse, police banned gilets jaunes from La place du Capitole and demonstrators were excluded from the centre of Bordeaux.

In Nice, police fired tear gas and 20 people were arrested in a no-go zone. In another incident in the city, a woman in her seventies was taken to hospital with cuts and bruises after she was pushed to the ground when police moved towards a crowd of protesters.

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