France in crisis as country braces for more violence

Tensions were high in France on Friday as authorities and the public prepare for tomorrow's day of protests, with violence expected in Paris and other cities.

France in crisis as country braces for more violence
Photo: AFP

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Latest news on Friday

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To read all the latest articles on the yellow vest protests and the impact on France and Paris in particular CLICK HERE.

'Gilets Jaunes libres' to meet the Prime Minister

A group of so-called gilets jaunes libres (free yellow vests) including Benjamin Cauchy, who has become an unofficial spokesman for the movement will meet French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe on Friday evening.

The group, who many gilets jaunes insist do not represent them, wanted to meet the president, but was apparently refused an audience. Emmanuel Macron is trying to stay out of the limelight for fear of inflaming the situation. 

Journalists given protection and protective gear

Journalists in France covering the protests tomorrow have been advised to wear protective gear and only take smartphones instead of cameras.

Several journalists have already been the subject of violence, notably in Toulouse and of abuse by a minority of protesters who claim the mainstream media is against them.

BFM TV have employed security guards to accompany every journalist who is out on the ground. They have been instructed to intervene if reporters are attacked.

Bordeaux also closes its Museums on Saturday

It's just Paris that is closing down its cultural sites. Authorities in Bordeaux, which has also seen outbreaks of violence in recent days has also announced it will close around 10 museums.

Updated advice for Britons in France from Foreign Office

The UK foreign office has updated its travel advice for Britons in France. This is what the latest information says.

“Protests against fuel prices linked to the yellow vest (gilets jaunes) movement continue across France, leading to blocked roads and motorways in some areas. Demonstrations are also planned in Paris on Saturday 8 December, which could be widespread and could cause extensive disruption.

“Recent demonstrations have led to violence and extensive damage to property. In preparation for Saturday’s expected demonstrations, which may again turn violent, the authorities have announced that a number of museums and tourist sites in central Paris will be closed. Shops on the Champs Elysées and surrounding streets, as well as some Metro (underground) stations, will also be closed.

“You should be aware that substantial numbers of police and gendarmerie officers will be present in central Paris to ensure security. 

“Outside Paris, related demonstrations are likely to occur in other towns and cities across the country. Motorists travelling through France may also experience delays or blockages caused by demonstrators at motorway toll booths. In all cases, you should avoid any demonstrations if at all possible and follow the advice of the local authorities.”

MP for Macron's party receives bullet in the post 

An MP for French President Emmanuel Macron's La Republique en Marche party received a bullet in the post on Friday. 
The MP for the northern Pas-de-Calais department Benoit Potterie said he received a bullet by post at his office and has filed a complaint. 
The bullet was accompanied by a handwritten message saying, “Next time you'll get it between the eyes”.
Number of cultural sites closing reaches 48

The list of famous Paris sites to close on Saturday continues to grow with the latest count being 48, including the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower and the Grand Palais.

Open top bus tours will not be running, many theatres will also close and the city's big department stores will also shut for the day;

Here's the latest list according to the City Hall.


The parts of Paris to avoid on Saturday

There are some places to avoid if you're going to be in Paris on Saturday.

It's best to steer clear of the Champs-Elysees and the wide surrounding area, stretching towards the department stores on the Boulevard Haussmann, the area around Opera and Place de la Concorde should also probably be avoided, given there was widespread rioting there last weekend.

gilets jaunes march is also scheduled to take place between Bastille and Republique in the east of the city.
A total of 14 areas will be under tight police surveillance, such as Place de l'Etoile at the Arc de Triomphe, Concorde, Place Vendome, Opera, Montparnasse and Place d'Italie.
Other parts of the city may also be worth avoiding as the day's developments unfold so remember to stay up to date with the news and check @ParisJeTaime for updates throughout the day. 
Here's a map from BFM TV which highlights the areas, according to them, that you might want to avoid.

Facebook groups — the nerve centre of the “yellow vest” protest movement 

With names like “Angry Drivers of Normandy”, Facebook groups are the nerve centre of the “yellow vest” protest movement raging across France — and increasingly, a breeding ground for fake news.
When Facebook's CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced in January that the social media giant was going to start prioritising local news, little did he know it would end up feeding the worst crisis of Emmanuel Macron's presidency.
Internet experts say changes to Facebook's algorithms have helped “anger groups” like that in Normandy swell to tens of thousands of members — and last month, they spilled onto the streets.
November 17 marked the start of nationwide road blockades against rising fuel prices, which have since ballooned into a mass movement against rising living costs and Macron in general.
With thousands of posts railing against everyone from the president to a shadowy global financial cabal, the groups reflect the leaderless nature of the yellow vests, who subscribe to a variety of different goals.
Paris residents prepare for the worst

Residents living around the upmarket Champs-Elysees area of Paris spoke to The Local about their worries as protesters gear up to hit the French capital once again on Saturday, with the government fearing a repeat of last weekend's violence.

“Of course I'm scared about what will happen tomorrow and I'm not planning to leave the house,” Isabelle Rochas told The Local

“At the beginning I was in favour of the gilets jaunes and what they were trying to do but since last week it seems to have degenerated into a movement of people whose goal is to destroy everything,” said Rochas.
“The problem is people keep talking about these casseurs (hard core rioters) but I think some of the yellow vests who were originally reasonable and fairly mild have been swept up in the violence because they think it's the only way they can get what they want.” 
Some residents have decided that they are not taking any risks this weekend and are taking measures such as leaving for the weekend or moving their cars. 
“I'm not staying around to see how bad it gets,” one resident who did not want to be named told The Local. “These people shouldn't be able to stop others living their lives the way they want to.”
French government releases video to appeal to rioters

The French government has sent out a video on Twitter to appeal to protesters not to resort to violence.

“Demonstrating is not smashing things up,” reads the text on the video.

Galeries Lafayette and Printemps to close on Saturday

Grands magasins Galeries Lafayette and Printemps on Boulevard Haussmann will be closed on Saturday, according to reports in the French press

The department stores will be closed as a “precaution” as a result of the exceptional circumstances. 
“People's safety – both customers and employees – is the absolute and daily priority of the Galeries Lafayette Group throughout the year,” Galeries Lafayette said (see tweet below). 
BHV in the Marais and the Montparnasse branch of Galeries Lafayette will also be closed. 
France's rights watchdog opens probe into arrest of school pupils

One story that has caused widespread outrage on Friday is the arrest of 150 school pupils in Mantes-la-Jolie to the north west of Paris. The pupils were pictured on their knees surrounded by riot police with their hands on their heads (see link below).

France's rights watchdog the Defenseur des Droits has opened an investigation into the manner of the arrests.

Videos of French high-school pupils forced to kneel by police causes outcry


Where to avoid in Paris on Saturday?

Readers have been asking us if we can point out the places to avoid in Paris tomorrow.

This is not easy because as we saw last week the protest was meant to take place on the Champs Elysées but quickly descended into mayhem in the streets round the Arc de Triomphe, before spreading in the evening throughout the 8th arrondissement.

In the end only a section of the city was affected but the point is that is last week is anything to go by the its hard to predict what will happen. We've seen in previous demos where a violent fringe has turned up that they have ended in cat and mouse chases with police.

For example during the demos against labour law reforms anarchist and left-wing extremist groups break off from the main crowd and carry out destruction away from the watching police but in front of bemused members of the public. By the time the police were on the scene the damage was done and the rioters had moved off.

Nevertheless there are some areas to avid on Saturday, not least the Champs-Elysees and the wide surrounding area, stretching towards the department stores on the Boulevard Haussmann. A  gilet jaunes march is also scheduled to take place between Bastille and Republique in the east of the city.

But many other areas on the Right Bank may also feel like ghost towns given shop owners are likely to take the decision to close.

Here's a map from BFM TV which highlights the areas, according to them, that you might want to avoid.

CGT truckers union also calls off strike

A big sigh of relief as just passed through the Elysée Palace after the CGT union joined the FO in calling OFF its planned rolling strike from Sunday. That action could have caused havoc on the roads.

It was to do with overtime rates but was also in sympathy with the yellow vest movement.

“Gilets jaunes libres' call for people not to go to Paris

A group calling itself the gilets jaunes libres or 'free yellow vests' have just been giving a press conference; 

One of their spokespeople Benjamin Cauchy called for calm and for “respect for the forces of law and order”. He urged fellow “yellow vest” supporters not to head to Paris on Saturday to join the demonstration.

Cauchy also demanded talks with President Emmanuel Macron.

“We are ready for dialogue. We expect a political, tax and social electro-shock from the government,” he told media outside the French parliament.

“The government tries to make us out to be rioters, that's no the case.”

What's interesting is the amount of abuse directed towards Cauchy and fellow gilet jaune libre spokesperson Jacqueline Mouraud on Twitter. Many insist they don't represent the gilet jaune movement.

Molotov cocktails seized 

AFP has just tweeted that 28 molotov cocktails otherwise known as petrol bombs were seized at a roundabout in Montauban near Toulouse, as well as three homemade bombs.

Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo gives details of how Paris will be affected on Saturday

The mayor of Paris has been given details about how the city will be in lockdown tomorrow. She calls for calm as you'd expect and for people to “take care of Paris”.

Velib bicycle stations and public buildings will be closed as well as numerous museums ad tourist sites such as the Eiffel Tower.

Hidalgo said it was with immense sadness that Paris will practically “come to a halt” but she said that security and safety were the main priorities. 

The mayor said that hundreds of workers had been on duty throughout the week clearing “urban furniture” in other words barriers and bollards that can be used as weapons.

Some nine street markets across the capital that are normally open on a Saturday will not take place this weekend. Anyone who wants up to date information on the latest closures can visit


Where is President Emmanuel Macron throughout all this?

The French president has been notable by his absence in recent days. In fact he has hardly be seen at all apart from when he was jeered and heckled on a visit to a prefecture that was set ablaze by protesters last Saturday.

Macron, perhaps understandably given he has become the central figure of hate among yellow vest protesters, has thought it better to lie low and avoid “pouring oil on the fire”.

But one of the repeated complaints among yellow vest protesters is that they want to hear from their president. Many yellow vest protesters now believe his silence is a sign of disrespect and of how he holds them in contempt. Macron insists he accepts their anger.

The president can't win it seem. But we are told he will speak in some form after the weekend.

But who knows what might have happened by then.




Armored vehicles deployed in Paris

These armored vehicles (pictured below) will be ready to be deployed in Paris on Saturday. There will be 12 of them and apparently it will be up to the Prime Minister whether the police put them into action. 

They are rarely used in cities in France and were last used by gendarmes to evacuate the contested airport site Notre-Dame-des-Landes in western France, which saw fierce clashes with protesters.

Companies urged to hike wages by government

The French government appear to have realised this crisis is about far more than fuel taxes. The labour minister Muriel Penicaud held talks with bosses and unions on Friday and suggested that companies take the opportunity to boost workers' wages.

“Everyone can do something, so everyone must do something,” she said. But the minister stopped short of using the law to force businesses to boost wages accepting that would warm competitiveness. 

Police allowed to carry out extensive ID checks 

Paris prosecutor Remy Heitz said police in the city have been given the power to carry out stop and search checks at any “sensitive points” in the city in order to try to identify any individuals seeking to cause trouble.

Truckers union calls off strike

At least one conflict appears to have been resolved in the last few hours. One of the two truckers unions who called on lorry drivers to begin a rolling strike on Sunday evening has called off the action after talks held with employers and the government.

The FO union said it had received guarantees that overtime rates would be guaranteed. It's not yet clear whether the CGT union will push on with the strike.

Striking French truckers and farmers set to add to Macron's woes


Interior Minister speaks

France's Interior Minister Christophe Castaner has just given a press conference. He declined to give too many details of the security plan for Saturday in Paris for fearing of tipping off the rioters.

The minister confirmed that the government believes “radical elements” will mobilise on Saturday.

He did confirm the number of police to be deployed: 8,000 in the capital and 89,000 around France. Castaner again pleaded to peaceful gilets jaunes protesters: 

“I hear the anger, the government hears the anger. We have made concessions,” he said.


11:30 – Live blog

We've decided to launch a live blog to cover the day's news around the yellow vest movement and the planned protests on Saturday.  There is a lot going on in France right now and things are changing rapidly. We'll have live updates on everything that you need to know today so please keep checking in with us and refresh the page manually for updates.

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Is France’s ‘yellow vest’ movement really on its way back?

Nearly two years since 'yellow-vest' protesters flooded the streets, the signature gilets jaunes have become a rare sight in France. With a comeback announced on September 12th, what is left of the movement that shook France?

Is France's 'yellow vest' movement really on its way back?
Yellow vest protests in Paris in 2019. Photo: AFP

When Priscillia Ludosky put on a yellow vest for the first time and headed out to the Champs Elysées to protest, she had no idea that nearly 300,000 people would do the same.

It was November 17th, 2018, the first 'yellow vest' protest in the capital and the birth of a mass-movement so large that its vows to overthrow French President Emmanuel Macron’s government seemed, for a moment, credible. 

Nearly two years later, Macron is still president – and aiming for reelection – while the ‘yellow vest’ movement has all but disappeared from the public eye.

“It’s been a long time since I wore the yellow vest,” Priscillia Ludosky, founder and leading figure of the movement, told The Local.

She had not left the movement, but said she was less active than she had been.

“I'm less on-the-ground than I used to. The pandemic put the brakes on most things,” she said.

Despite France's rising coronavirus rates, the 'yellow vests' have declared a comeback protest on September 12th, promising to “never give up”.


But with the protests before lockdown gathering only a fraction of the numbers they once rallied, how much is there really left of the 'yellow vests'?

“The movement is much smaller, much less active, and much more divided than it was at the outset,” historian Sylvain Boulouque told The Local.

Boulouque has followed the movement from the beginning and has written the book Mensonges en gilet jaune (Lies in yellow vests), about the role social media and fake news played in fuelling the 'yellow vests' anger.

When the ‘yellow vests’ first spiralled into a national mass-movement, their rallying cry “Macron demission !” (Macron resign) was the one ringing the loudest, and it was also one of the few demands that all of the ‘yellow vests’ could unite behind.

“The movement spans all the way from the extreme-left to the extreme-right. There is no unity on the fundamental political questions,” Boulouque said.

The more time passed, the more the movement's internal divisions became clear. Today, Boulouque said, there was “a little bit of everything” left, and just keeping track of the movement had become a challenge.

“It’s so local that the demographic changes from town to town and week to week,” he said.

Among the extreme right-wing were a number of conspiracy theory believers, he said, including anti-mask activists who opposed the French government's new rules on masks.

Pro- and anti-masks was just the newest fault line dividing the 'yellow vests', Boulouque said.

“The pandemic will split them rather than reunite them,” he said.

‘Covid proved our points’

Seizing on the pandemic to re-mobilise the masses is what the still-active 'yellow vests' hope to do on September 12th.

Leading 'yellow vest' figure Jérôme Rodrigues. Photo: AFP

Jérôme Rodrigues, another ‘yellow vest’ leading figure, told Slate that the pandemic was their “best ally”.

“Covid proved our points about the degrading of the health system and the limits of the capitalist system,” Rodrigues said.

When the French government imposed a nationwide, strict lockdown in March, it was to save the hospitals in hard-hit areas such as Paris from the mounting pressure of a rapidly increasing patient flow. 

The lockdown, which lasted over two months, had a crippling impact on the economy and saw the government spend billions on emergency help schemes to prevent chain bankruptcies and mass layoffs. 

Despite the government's efforts to kickstart the economy, France’s unemployment rate is set to increase by 10 percent by the end of the year. Young people will be the worst affected, according to France’s national institute for statistics, Insee. Rodrigues predicted that the looming downturn would reaffirm people's faith in the 'yellow vest' movement.

“With the coming crisis, people who were doing well financially and who have never had a hard time are going to fall flat on their faces,” Rodrigues said.

'Yellow vest' leading figure Priscillia Ludosky has been participating in protests against police violence and in support of France's hospital sector the past months. Photo: AFP

'Sensationalist media'

Rodrigues became a symbol of the ‘yellow vests’ after he was hit in the eye by what he claimed to be an LBD rubber bullet fired by police (the police refute his accusation, but the authority overseeing the police has launched an investigation into the matter). 

Blinded in one eye, Rodrigues incorporated one of the most jarring features of the protests: their increasingly violent character. The recurring scenes of violence that dominated the protests contributed to the ‘yellow vests’ hogging headlines for months – not just in France, but across the world. 

Images of burning cars, police armed with rubber-bullet guns, violent fist-fights and black-clad protesters smashing ATMs with baseball bats shocked the world. 

But the violence also dominated the media coverage of the protests, which meant what the protesters were saying got less attention.

READ ALSO How the 'yellow vests' made France have a national conversation about police violence

To Ludosky, this was a big problem.

“The media won’t cover anything unless it’s sensationalist,” she said. 

Ludosky authored the online petition that became the catalyst for the ‘yellow vest’ protests. In it, she wrote that the government’s proposed carbon tax was both falsely branded a green policy and was harmful to the many people who depended on their cars to get around every day.

The document went viral and gathered more than one million signatures, and the fluorescent yellow vest that all vehicles in France must be equipped with became the symbol of the masses revolting against the elites.

Ludosky said her main point was lost in the coverage. She was not an angry car-enthusiast defending her right to drive, she was saying that the tax was unfair and would impact the most on the poorest.

“The longer we protested, the more they tried to tell everyone that we don't know what we want. That we were only out there to break things,” she said.

The early days of the movement saw hundreds of 'roundabout protests' in the French provinces. Photo: AFP

'They are there'

The violence also discouraged many of the 'yellow vests' who had little experience with protesting and were shocked by the use of force on both sides.

Danielle Tartakowsky, a professor at the Paris 8 University who specialises in social movements in contemporary France, said it was important to distinguish between the ‘yellow vest’ who still turned up to protests in Paris – often young, keen and ready to go head to head with police – and the ‘yellow vests’ mobilising in less urban areas.

“In the countryside the ‘yellow vest’ movement is the same as it was at the outset,” she said.

In her new book, On est là ! (We’re here), a main ‘yellow vest’ rallying cry, she concludes just that; the movement had changed, but the ‘yellow vests’ were still present.

“That does not mean that they are ready to rally in the same ways, but it would be dangerous and delusional to say that they have disappeared,” she said.

Tartakowsky said that, while the 'yellow vests' successes could seem limited from the outside, they had pushed through important change indirectly by showing that it was possible to force through change.

“Even if they did not win on all points they showed that it was possible to win something, to make the government backpedal,” she said, referring to the carbon tax.

The camp

When the protests started, the roundabout became the main stage for the protesters who did not travel to Paris to make their discontent heard and seen in the capital. 

From June 2019 until March 2020, just before the pandemic hit with full force, Séverine spent most of her free time on a local roundabout where she and some 30 other ‘yellow vests’ had set up a camp.

A teacher in Amiens, a city a couple of hours north of Paris, Séverine was an early believer that the ‘yellow vests’ would be the movement that finally could radically change a system she saw as unjust, undemocratic and unsustainable.

“I passed all my evenings, all my weekends at the camp,” she said.

The camp was a microcosm of the world they hoped to create.

“We cooked together, discussed, we really had some great moments there together,” she said.

They were all kinds of people at the camp; a waiter, a metro driver, a nursery teacher, a few retirees. An Indian student who just needed somewhere to crash for free. 

“It was a very open environment,” Séverine said.

But the problems soon surfaced. The camp, like the movement, swore to a leaderless management style where no one had a final say.

“It was a mess. Obviously, we didn’t manage to make any decisions,” Séverine said.

Violence at protests became a major problem. Photo: AFP

'People are exhausted'

They split themselves into two groups. Oddly enough, the division had little to do with politics.

“It was not about left or right. We actually agreed on the fundamental issues. It was more about strong personalities and people simply not getting along,” she said.

The atmosphere soured. They argued more, discussed less. They went from 30, to 20, to about 10. Then, after the local election in March, just before the pandemic made social distancing the norm, the mayor told them to clear the camp. 

Critics have long said the ‘yellow vests’ lack of leadership was their major, perhaps the decisive, default. How could they push for change when they had no idea what they wanted?

Despite having become so disillusioned with the movement that she no longer knew if she wanted to call herself a ‘yellow vest’ at all, Séverine was not sure this was their main problem. 

“Demonstrating every weekend is tiring. It requires a significant commitment. I think people are exhausted,” she said.

'I was fed up'

In the months that followed the movement’s heyday in early 2019, the protests followed the same pattern as Séverine's camp.

They were increasingly sparse in numbers and the atmosphere increasingly tense and bitter.

“You're walking in a state of complete stress, afraid that someone is aiming at you. You don't hear the messages anymore,” Séverine said.

Five people have lost a hand in the protests. Twenty-five were blinded in an eye. According to government numbers, 2,500 protesters were hurt in the protests by the end of 2019, along with 1,800 police officers.

“No one could imagine that a movement could last this long without losing momentum,” Ludosky said.

“Keeping on going cost a lot to the people who got involved. It's money, time, people lost limbs, couples separated.”

READ ALSO ANALYSIS: French police are not all thugs – they are being placed in an impossible situation

Like many others, she was put off by the violence. In the end, she left her yellow vest in her car.

“I was fed up,” she said. “Every time I wore it I worried about the police controlling me.”

She was not sure if she still believed in the movement.

“It’s complicated. The presidential elections are coming up soon, crying out for Macron’s resignation doesn’t make sense anymore.”

“But the 12th will be the moment to go out on the streets. Not necessarily in Paris, but we need to show something.”