French ‘yellow vest’ protesters began a series of nationwide demonstrations on Saturday in a bid to show the government they can still muster support on the first anniversary of their movement.
Numbers attending the protests and levels of violence have sharply diminished in recent months from the height of the movement, which began on November 17 last year with a giant Paris protest that drew almost 300,000 people.
But the yellow vests want the actions on Saturday — their traditional day for protests — and also Sunday — the anniversary day — to show president Emmanuel Macron they remain a force to be reckoned with.
‘We’re here even if Macron doesn’t like it’ demonstrators chanted as they arrived on the outskirts of Paris Saturday, with others singing ‘Happy Birthday’.
Paris police reported 24 arrests by 10.50am (0950 GMT) after incidents involving police using teargas and demonstrators setting fires.
Several metro stations were closed in the capital and police were deployed in numbers, especially along the Champs-Elysees, which was again closed off to demonstrators following the ransacking of shops that followed a protest last March.
Police were also stationed near government ministries.
Around 200 demonstrations are planned, with authorities expecting several thousand to rally in the capital.
This estimate includes a few hundred radical protesters from the ultra-left and far-right, often behind the worst scenes of mayhem.
France has a long tradition of violent protest, but the ferocity of last winter’s demonstrations and allegations of police brutality shocked the country.
Officials said the magnitude of the weekend protests is far from certain but deputy interior minister Laurent Nunez noted a ‘more pronounced interest’ than in previous weeks, and police would plan their deployment accordingly.