Reportage. Yellow vest protesters were indignant that the French president postponed an address ‘because of a fire at a cathedral.’

Yellow vests: ‘Notre Dame is not us’

Act XXIII of the yellow vest protests took place Saturday, and it came with a “second ultimatum” directed at Macron by the “ultra-yellow” wing, who are extremely disappointed by the leaks coming out  regarding what the French President was going to say in his “response” addressing the people’s demands from the national popular consultation. He was slated to deliver his televised address on Monday, but he cancelled it due to the Notre Dame fire, and is instead planning to hold a press conference on Thursday, April 25.

There were slightly more participants in the protests compared to the previous week: according to figures published by the Ministry of the Interior, 27,000 people took to the streets across France, 7,000 of them in Paris.

In the French capital, two protest marches were officially authorized, but two others were blocked by the police. Saturday also saw protests in Lyon, Bordeaux, Caen, Toulouse (where the yellow vests were joined by motorcyclists) and Nantes, where the atmosphere was rather festive.

The bulk of the protests in Paris were concentrated near the Place de la République and the Saint-Martin canal, where there were heavy clashes with the police. A lot of tear gas, stun grenades and liquid paint were used against the protesters, who in turn burned cars and scooters, robbed shops, attacked the headquarters of a bank and shouted violent slogans. A total of 60,000 police were deployed across France.

In Paris, 17,000 preventive searches were conducted, at the train stations, in the metro and at toll barriers. The police published photos with the “prohibited materials” they confiscated, and more than 200 people were detained (including, apparently, the anti-fascist militant Antonin Bernanos).

The “ultra-yellow” wing, the most radical, seems to have seized control of the movement, becoming the nexus of protest activity on social media. “The demonstrations must stop,” said Emmanuel Grégoire, city councilor of the municipality of Paris, on Saturday evening, after yet another day of violence. The protesters’ slogans and signs made many references to the Notre Dame fire and to the various controversies that erupted in the previous week.

“Notre Dame is not us,” said a sign displayed during the Paris march, while others had a different take: “Je suis Notre-Dame.”

Underlying both these slogans is a common message: a major controversy has focused on the large donations by the richest people in France for the reconstruction of the cathedral, which the yellow vests saw in a very negative light.

Jérôme Rodrigues, one of the leaders of the yellow vests, who has himself lost an eye in a previous protest, had harsh words for the French president: “Macron doesn’t listen to us. He needed to announce a plan at the beginning of the week, he didn’t do it because of a fire at a cathedral. I think it’s a disgrace. In France, the world seems to stand still whenever there’s a fire.”

A deputy from La République en Marche had harsh words in reply, calling Rodrigues “a complete idiot.” In addition to the demonstrations themselves, the reasons behind them and the political responses, another growing controversy concerns the police collecting information about the wounded protesters being treated in hospitals. The Minister of Health, Agnes Buzin, has insisted that “the medical staff has not been asked to record the patients’ information”; however, people are already complaining that they have been entered into Si-Vic, a database created after the 2015 terrorist attacks for the purpose of identifying terrorists.

Macron has even more problems to deal with than the aftermath of yet another Saturday of yellow vest protests: on Friday, there were also protests in La Défense, Paris’s business district, in which militant environmentalists blocked all access to the offices of three large companies—Total, EDF and the Société Générale bank—in a protest against the “polluters” and against “Macron, the polluters’ president.”

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