PARIS (Reuters) – Thousands of “yellow vest” protesters marched through Paris and other French cities on Saturday, marking the 17th straight weekend of demonstrations despite attempts by President Emmanuel Macron to quell discontent with a nationwide series of debates.
A protester holds the French flag on the Champs Elysees near the Arc de Triomphe during a demonstration by the “yellow vests” movement in Paris, France, March 9, 2019.REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer
Protesters wearing the neon high-visibility vests that have come to symbolize the anti-government movement were joined in Paris by others donning pink tops, as child-care workers turned out against a reform of their unemployment subsidies.
People also gathered in Bordeaux, Lyon and Toulouse and smaller towns such as southerly Puy-en-Velay, with turnout at 2 p.m. local time (1300 GMT) slightly up at 7,000 across the country compared with 5,600 by the same time last Saturday, according to the interior ministry.
Some demonstrators staged a “flashmob” at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport, waving French flags and dancing in one of the terminals, television footage on BFM TV showed.
On the Champs Elysee avenue in the city center, police used water cannons to push back demonstrators in the early evening.
What started out last November as a backlash against Macron’s plan to hike fuel taxes — part of his bid to push a cleaner energy model — has morphed into a broader movement decrying the government as out of touch with the hardships faced by some households and low-income workers.
Turnout has dwindled since nearly 300,000 people took part in road blockades and marches across France on Nov. 17, coming in at 46,600 by the end of last Saturday.
But protesters have carried on nonetheless, with few signs of a halt in demonstrations any time soon.
Macron, who dropped the fuel tax increase and budgeted an extra 10 billion euros ($11.24 billion) to help the poorest workers, has also sought to defuse the unrest with a series of town hall-like meetings across France.
Consultations with local representatives are due to draw to a close next weekend, coinciding with calls by some ‘yellow vest’ campaigners to up the pressure on the government throughout March. The movement has no single leader.
After riots in December, recent demonstrations have been largely peaceful.
Some 54 percent of French people backed or had sympathy with the ‘yellow vests’, an Ifop poll taken on March 7 and 8 for online news site Atlantico showed on Saturday. That was up from 50 percent in mid-February but down from a peak of 72 percent.
Macron’s popularity has also improved in recent weeks. An Ipsos poll released on March 6 showed his ratings improved by 8 percentage points since December of 2018, to a 28 percent approval level.
Reporting by Sarah White, Danielle Rouquie and Reuters TV; Editing by Helen Popper