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11.05.2019 Europe

Yellow Vest Protesters Gather Momentum

REUTERS/Benoit Tessier
MAY 11, 2019 EUROPE

Major Yellow Vest protests have been planned in the French cities of Nantes and Lyon on Saturday, as the movement seeks to rebuild momentum after last weekend's record low turnout.

The 26th consecutive weekend of demonstrations comes just two weeks before this month's critical European parliamentary elections.

Yet nearly six months after the movement first began, support for the Yellow Vests appears to be dwindling. Last week's demonstrations drew less than 19,000 people nationwide, according to the French Interior Ministry – a number that has been contested by protesters as too low.

Yellow Vests hope that by staging large rallies in other major cities, they will be attracting supporters who don't have the time, resources or inclination to travel to Paris every weekend.

“There's a sort of fatigue and fear because of the police violence. There is also a financial aspect: it's expensive to protest in Paris … but (the movement) could take off again from nothing,” Thierry Boirivant, a 44-year-old accountant and self-avowed Yellow Vest, told AFP on a highway outside of Lyon.

Boirivant said that French President Emmanuel Macron's recent concessions following a months-long “grand debate” on national policy – which was launched in response to the ongoing Yellow Vest protests – failed to address the movement's demands. His views were shared by another protester, David L. (who did not give a last name), in Nantes.

“People are exhausted, they're sick of it. Deep down, we want to stop, but we also want something powerful and concrete to happen before summer,” the 41-year-old told French news agency AFP.

Earlier this month, members of the Yellow Vest movement announced they were fielding a list in the upcoming European parliamentary elections on May 26. But it is expected to garner no more than 2 percent of the vote, according to a recent poll by Elabe for BFMTV.

In preparation for Saturday's protest, police in Lyon have blocked off four additional shopping areas. Authorities in Nantes have limited access to the city's centre.

Protests will still be held in Paris, where police have cordoned off the famous Champs-Élysées avenue, the National Assembly and the area surrounding Notre-Dame Cathedral.

Demonstrations have also been planned in the French cities of Lille, Dijon, Toulouse and Strasbourg.