Paris: French authorities made 1,723 arrests over the weekend, and took 1,220 into custody, as some 125,000 people joined a new wave of Yellow Jackets protests in towns and cities across France, the interior ministry said Sunday.
Some 10,000 protesters rallied in Paris, including in eastern and southern parts of the city. More than 260 people were injured in the protests, including 39 police and gendarmes, according to the interior ministry.
The government mobilized nearly 120,000 police and gendarmes across the country, and stationed heavy armored vehicles near major monuments in the capital in anticipation of a fourth weekend of Yellow Jackets violence.
Police also used tear gas on a group of protesters near the Champs-Elysées, where some protesters threw makeshift hand grenades at gendarmes and tore down barricades set up to protect shops in the area. One group attempted to attack at a phone store before police intervened.
The number of arrests made in Paris — 1,082 people were stopped, AFP reported — suggests authorities took a tougher approach to the protests in the capital. By comparison, Paris police made 412 arrests and placed 378 in custody last week, when protesters ransacked shops and defaced monuments around the Champs-Elysées. Only 103 people were stopped by police during protests in late November.
The Yellow Jackets protests grew out of discontent expressed on social media over a planned fuel-tax hike, which the French government has since abandoned. But the group has morphed into a broader movement protesting against President Emmanuel Macron, whom it accuses of ignoring the struggles of rural workers and others on low incomes. According to polls, a majority of French people support the movement.
Paris was largely in lock-down, with streets around the Champs-Elysées closed off to traffic and shops boarded up or closed to avoid damage. Some 10 museums — including the Louvre — plus the Eiffel Tower and big department stores also said they would be closed.
Similar demonstrations took place in cities and towns across the country, including in Marseille and Lyon, and in the suburbs of Paris. France’s national police force tweeted Saturday that a majority of protesters were “peaceful.”
In a show of solidarity with 153 students who were made to kneel in front of armed police on the outskirts of Paris earlier this week, some Yellow Jackets in Marseille protested by assuming the same position.
The protest movement also spilled across the border into Belgium, where 1,000 police officers were mobilized to deal with a rally that drew an estimated 1,000 Yellow Jacket supporters on Saturday. About 400 people were stopped by police in Brussels in “preventative” checks ahead of the protests, according to Ilse Van De Keere, the spokesperson for Central Brussels and Ixelles.
Some Yellow Jacket protesters also blocked off several big routes in Flanders, near the French border.