Few turn out for French 'yellow vest' protests, driver dies at road block

TOULOUSE/PARIS, France (Reuters) - France’s anti-government “yellow vest” protest was losing steam on Saturday but caused traffic disruption through road blocks across the country, leading to the death of a 10th person since the start of the movement last month.

The turnout on the streets of Paris and other cities was smaller than in previous weekends, authorities said. No major damage or clashes had been reported between police and protesters as of mid-afternoon.

About 23,800 people were demonstrating at 1300 GMT, including fewer than 1,000 in Paris, the interior ministry said. This was down from a week ago at the same time when there were 33,500 protesters out on the streets, 2,200 of which were in Paris.

Authorities had expected a march in Versailles, whose castle is a symbol of French state power and one of Europe’s top tourist attractions.

But few “gilets jaunes” (yellow vest) protesters - so-called after the high-visibility jackets French motorists must carry in their cars - showed up in the formal royal city.

Dispersed groups of protesters were out on the streets of Paris near tourist landmarks such as the Sacre Coeur Basilica and the Galeries Lafayette department stores, singing La Marseillaise and calling for President Emmanuel Macron’s resignation.

Attendance was on the rise, however, in Lyon and Bordeaux, according to Reuters witnesses. Protesters also managed to block some of the big highways, including one leading to Spain.

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Late on Friday, a 36-year-old man died in Perpignan, southern France, when his car hit a truck at a road block erected by protesters, raising the death toll linked to the demonstrations to 10.

On Saturday, police fired tear gas against protesters who gathered near Macron’s villa in the chic resort of Le Touquet in northern France.


In the French capital, the police arrested 109 protesters, seven of whom were held in custody.

Three weeks ago the protests in Paris turned into some of the worst unrest seen in the capital since the student-led civil unrest of 1968. Cars were set on fire, bank and insurance offices’ windows smashed and street furniture was vandalized.

Of the ten deaths linked to the protests, most have been the result of road accidents.

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The “yellow vest” protesters began in mid-November to rally against fuel tax increases and subsequently against the wider liberal economic reform policy of Macron, who made tax and salary concessions earlier this month.

But the movement has gradually lost steam in recent weeks.

Since he caved in to protesters in a TV address on Dec 10, Macron, who turned 41 on Friday, has largely kept out of the public eye, staying inside the Elysee palace for what his press team called internal meetings.

A recent poll showed France’s far-right party National Rally, formerly known as the National Front, confirmed it was so far the biggest political beneficiary of the protests.

Reporting by Johanna Decorse in Toulouse and Emmanuel Jarry in Paris; Additional reporting by Christian Hartmann, Clotaire Achi, Pierre Savary, Gilbert Reilhac, Claude Canellas and Myriam Rivet; Writing by Mathieu Rosemain; Editing by Richard Balmforth