The French interior ministry has approved a 'yellow vest' (gilets jaunes) rally on the Champ de Mars, near the Eiffel Tower in the 7th arrondissement of the French capital for this Saturday, saying it offers the “necessary security conditions” for the gathering.
The gilet jaunes who have been protesting against rising fuel taxes and a general decline in living standards said they wanted to stage a rally at Place de la Concorde in central Paris however permission for this was denied by the government for security reasons.
But it doesn't look like the gilets jaunes are planning to play by the rules set by the government.
It seems that “at least three separate” gatherings are being considered by the nebulous protest group, including — despite being refused permission — a rally at Place de la Concorde in the morning, as well as two others in the afternoon in Bastille in the 11th arrondissement and the Champ de Mars.
Priscillia Ludosky, one of the unofficial spokespeople of the movement told French media LCI that the “yellow vests” had rejected the offer to demonstrate at the Champs de Mars.
“The demonstration will not take place at this location,” she said.
Another unofficial spokesperson Laetitia Dewalle said: “We are not just going to have a giant picnic on the grass” at the Champs de Mars.
She added that protesters would organise a “citizens movement in the streets of Paris.”
“To gather like little sheep to graze on the grass is not our objective. We want to make ourselves heard and seen.”
Benjamin Cauchy one of the leaders of the yellow vest movement in Toulouse said he like others would head to the streets around the Champs-Elysees.
“Don't you think it's a provocation to prevent citizens from going where they want?” he told BFM TV. “What you don't understand is that this movement is unprecedented.”
On Facebook pages set up to organise the protests, participants are still instructed to meet at Place de la Concorde at 8 am, despite the ban. Judging by comments many are planning to travel to the capital from as far away as Brest in Brittany and Marseille and Grenoble in the south.
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On Thursday Interior Minister Christophe Castener said “several requests had been filed” for protests in Paris and the Champ de Mars, a large public green space next to the Eiffel Tower, “can accommodate the protesters”.
There will also be a security presence to protect “sensitive areas” in the French capital, said the minister.
On Friday Paris police chief Michel Delpuech warned that “no one would be able to get on to the Champs Elysees” or Place de la Concorde.
He told BFM TV that the streets around the famous avenue will be closed off and that protesters must head to the designated area at the Champs de Mars.
“We have an area in which we can secure the rally, it's the Champ de Mars. There will be a large security perimeter around the Elysee Palace and the protests won't be able to pass,” Delpuech said.
He warned that protesters would be arrested if they ignored the perimeter but accepted that the protests could be infiltrated by so-called casseurs – rioters who are intent on causing maximum damage.
The leader of the far-right National Rally party Marine Le Pen poured oil on the fire on Friday by saying the gilets jaunes had every right to demonstrate on the Champs-Elysees.
“What justifies banning people from protesting on the Champs-Elysees when many other gatherings – like during the World Cup or at New Year can take place there?” Le Pen said.
The information suggests that at least 30,000 people are expected to attend, including “80 to 120 far right radicals” and “100 to 200 activists from the far left”.
Between 100 and 200 taxi and private hire cab drivers are also set to bolster the protests which authorities expect will see traffic blocked at strategic places in the city, including Place de l'Etoile and Porte Maillot in the west of the city.
Last Saturday thousands of Gilets Jaunes protesters flocked into Paris and brought the Champs Elysees to a halt before marching on the Elysee Palace. They were eventually pushed back by riot police amid ugly scenes.
“November 24th, Paris is blocked, November 24th, Paris is dead,” Frank Buhler, one of the people behind the movement told AFP.
“I hope there will be a real yellow wave,” he said, referring to the yellow jackets worn by the protesters.
According to Le Parisien, it is believed the political protesters may attempt to grab the attention of the media towards the end of the day around the Elysée Palace or “provoke the police and damage shops.”
If this happens no doubt it will give credence to the idea touted by some that the protest movement is nothing more than a bunch of thugs and anarchists rather than just ordinary people who feel like they are being left behind by the government's elitist politics.