French 'yellow vest' protesters look to revive movement

Yellow Vests protesters clash with riot police forces during a demonstration against rising oil prices and living costs in Bordeaux, southwestern France, on December 1, 2018. (Nicolas Tucat, AFP)
Yellow Vests protesters clash with riot police forces during a demonstration against rising oil prices and living costs in Bordeaux, southwestern France, on December 1, 2018. (Nicolas Tucat, AFP)

Anti-government protesters turned out in several French cities on Saturday, hoping to inject fresh momentum into weekly demonstrations calling for social justice and the ouster of President Emmanuel Macron.

The so-called "yellow vest" movement had tapered off over the summer, but its leaders are hoping to galvanise support for a fresh wave of rallies as the government embarks on a reform of France's retirement system.

Police said around 1 500 people gathered in the southern city of Montpellier, where a police car was set aflame by a firebomb as officers used tear gas to try to disperse the crowd.

Several storefronts were also vandalised, and police said three people had been detained.

Rallies of several hundreds of people were held in cities including Rouen, Strasbourg and Toulouse.

"We're all together, we want the government to drastically change its policies... and radical change can only come when this government resigns," said Alexandre Chantry, a yellow vest organiser in Lille.

However only a few dozen people demonstrated in Paris, where the authorities have maintained a ban on protests on the Champs-Elysees.

The famous avenue was the scene of burning cars, smashed storefronts and violent clashes with police after the yellow vest protests erupted last November.

Triggered by anger over a fuel tax increase, they quickly ballooned into a broad movement against Macron, accused of ignoring the day-to-day struggles of low-income earners in small-town and rural France.

The protests rocked Macron's presidency, and he eventually unveiled nearly €17bn ($18.8 billion) in wage boosts and tax cuts for low earners to quell the protests, while vowing to better address voters' grievances after months of town-hall debates.

But after attracting 282 000 people nationwide at the first yellow vest marches on November 17, their numbers had fallen sharply by last spring, and only sporadic protests were seen over the summer.

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