By the Associated Press
The yellow vest protests, which have brought particular chaos to Paris over the past few weeks, abated Saturday, though one small gathering around the presidential palace did lead to police firing tear gas and using batons.
The number of protesters demonstrating on Paris’ Champs Elysees, was down sharply on recent weeks as an appeal for a sixth straight Saturday of protests against the high cost of living and growing economic inequalities in France failed to make much of an imprint at the start of the Christmas and New Year holiday period.
According to Paris police, only 800 protesters had taken to the Paris streets, compared to 4,000 a week before and 10,000 the prior week. By midday Saturday, police had arrested 65 persons and detained four, down on the several-hundred arrested two weeks ago when the protests turned most violent.
In stark contrast to the chaos of previous weekends, tourists strolled down the avenue near the Arc de Triomphe, shoppers were out in force and the grandest of Parisian boulevards remained open for traffic.
Protesters appeared disorganized, with scattered groups walking randomly across the capital city. A few hundred protesters cordoned by police forces marched toward the Madeleine Church near the Elysee Palace but were stopped in a small adjacent street as some shop owners closed down early. Tempers frayed and police with batons fired tear gas to repel a few demonstators trying to break through the officers’ line.
Despite the more benign backdrop, the protests, which have morphed from an initial outcry against a fuel tax hike to incorporate a wide array of economic concerns, are still having a knock-on effect.
The palace of Versailles just outside Paris, for example, has been shut for the day after yellow vest protesters said they will hold a demonstration at the famous chateau that was home to succession of French kings until the French Revolution in 1789.
However, only a few protesters wearing their trademark vests showed up in Versailles, with most of the protesters gathering peacefully at the foot of the Sacre-Coeur basilica in the picturesque Paris neighborhood of Montmartre.
Paris’ other big tourist hotspots such as the Louvre museum and the Eiffel Tower, which had closed a couple of weeks back, remained open.
One reason why the heat has been taken out of the protests relates to the concessions from French President Emmanuel Macron. They include tax-free overtime and a freeze on gas and electricity prices this winter. The measures are expected to cost an estimated 10 billion euros ($1.14 billion).
Much of France, but particularly Paris, has endured weeks of protest by a nationwide movement that at times descended into violence. Ten people have died since the start of the movement mid-November, mostly in traffic accidents. According to several reports in French media, a man died Friday night near the southern city of Perpignan after his car slammed into the back of a truck that had stopped near a group of protesters.
Outside Paris, around 200 roundabouts remained occupied across the country. In southern France near the Spanish border, dozens of demonstrators blocked trucks and chanted “Macron, Demission,” which translates as “Macron, resign.” In central France near Saint-Etienne, protesters blocked a major road and set fires but shops remained open in the city center.