The Champs Elysées in Paris is the battleground since Saturday morning. Counter stand between demonstrators in yellow vests and the police grew to the the full-scale riots. “The movement of the gilets of Jaunes – a peaceful protest against the high fuel prices and taxes – was hijacked by a group of violent rioters”, the pro-government press says.
It was to be the second chapter for the yellow protest movement that brought in hundreds of thousands of French people last week. After the ‘national blockade against the rise in fuel prices’ last Saturday.
This time a ‘total blockade’ of Paris was the target.
In comparison with the massive mobilization of last week, the turnout is low. There were ‘just’ over 80 thousand demonstrators in France. Last Saturday, a total of 282 thousand people protested. The French police have arrested 130 rioters in Paris and in other cities.
Even more striking than the relatively low turnout is the rapid radicalization of the movement. From the early morning, several hundred protesters throw stones and other missiles at the police, who try to drive apart the protesters with tear gas and water cannons. On the Champs Elysées, rioters try to stop the police by hastily building barricades of crush barriers and concrete blocks. Planters and other objects are put on fire.
‘Extreme right-wing rioters’
The grim atmosphere is a big contrast to the protest of last Saturday. Large-scale violent riots remained as intense as it was then. In the Facebook groups where the protests were announced, the initiators always emphasized the peaceful nature of the movement.
That the demonstration has now escalated, according to the French government, is due to the interference of right-wing activists. Christophe Castaner, the French minister of the Interior, said that there is ‘a mobilization of right-wing rioters who respond to a call from Marine Le Pen’.
The French government had given the yellow vests permission for a demonstration on the Champs de Mars, the open plain at the foot of the Eiffel Tower. Many activists showed that they did not intend to follow up those stable orders. They wanted to be heard by Macron, and so to protest close to the Elysée, the tenor was on social media. On the vast Champs de Mars, a group of thousands of people also looks rather small, reasoned the yellow vests.
Le Pen, opposition leader of the radical right-wing Rasseblement National, wondered on Twitter why the demonstrators were not allowed to demonstrate on the Champs Elysées. She did not, however, make a call to do so anyway. The fact that Castaner points to her with an accusing finger can be regarded as an attempt to politicize the yellow vests.
The activists expressly presented themselves as apolitical. Their protest would be a spontaneous cri the coeur of ‘ordinary’ citizens against the high tax burden. Castaner tries to tilt that image, and to make it a political battle between the extreme right and the Marcon government.
“The minister would want this to be just a demonstration of the extreme right,” wrote the far-left politician Jean-Luc Mélenchon on Twitter. “In reality, this is a massive manifestation of the people.” It is still unclear whether the violent rioters who disfigure that manifestation come from the extreme right.