‘Yellow vests’ to be barred from Paris sites during VE Day commemorations

Paris police said "yellow vest" protesters whose weekly demonstrations have caused vandalism and security headaches will be barred from Paris's famed Champs-Elysees avenue on Wednesday during commemorations of the end of World War II.

'Yellow vests' to be barred from Paris sites during VE Day commemorations
Commemorations will be held at the Arc de Triomphe on Wednesday. Photo: AFP

The anti-government demonstrators will be banned from disrupting “solemn ceremonies” to take place at the Arc de Triomphe and along the avenue, which is near the French presidential palace, the police said in a statement.

READ ALSO Here's what's planned to mark VE Day in France

The Arc de Triomphe has been cleaned and restored in time for Wednesday's ceremonies. Photo: AFP

French authorities have been taking a harder line against the “yellow vest” protests since the last Paris police chief was sacked three weeks ago for failing to counter a stone-throwing and fiery rampage along the Champs-Elysees.

The new police chief who succeeded him, Didier Lallement, noted that the protests – which began in November over fuel tax increases and swelled into an anti-government movement – regularly saw police officers targeted by “a radical splinter group of demonstrators”.

The protests usually take place in Paris on Saturdays, but officials feared they could happen on Wednesday this week, which is a public holiday in France.

During Wednesday's commemorations celebrating Victory in Europe Day – Nazi Germany's surrender to the Allies on May 8, 1945 – French President Emmanuel Macron is leave his palace and go up the Champs-Elysees with an honour guard to lay a wreath under the Arc de Triomphe.

That famous monument has been repaired in time for the occasion, after “yellow vest” protesters vandalised it in a December demonstration. 

They sprayed graffiti, smashed sculptures and stole commemorative medals and snuffed out an eternal flame that burns atop a Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, causing €1.2 million in damage.

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What happened to the rioters who trashed the Arc de Triomphe during yellow vest violence?

A court in France has finally handed out sentences to some of those involved in the vandalism and theft at the Arc de Triomphe in December 2018 - when 'yellow vest' violence in Paris shocked the world.

What happened to the rioters who trashed the Arc de Triomphe during yellow vest violence?
'Yellow vest' protesters clash with police by the Arc de Triomphe on December 1st 2018 in Paris. Photo: Abdulmonam EASSA / AFP

The French court on Thursday sentenced eight people to suspended jail terms and community service for taking part in one of the most violent episodes of the anti-government ‘yellow vest’ protests that rocked France two years ago.

A total of nine stood trial this week for the incident, but one of them, a former soldier, was cleared for lack of evidence, presiding judge Sonia Lumbroso said at the verdict.

The court ruled the suspects were neither the instigators nor the main culprits of the vandalism and looting around the Arc de Triomphe monument in Paris, when scenes of destruction and fierce clashes with police made global headlines.

Most of them had no criminal records.

They were sentenced to 70 hours of community service for entering the monument, but those also found guilty of stealing items such as postcards, Arc de Triomphe models or miniature Eiffel Towers from the gift shop, were fined €100 for theft.

A ‘yellow vest’ protester arrives at the courthouse in Paris to attend the trial of ten people on charge of destruction and theft around the Arc de Triomphe monument in Paris. Photo: Thomas COEX / AFP

One of the group, a man who was caught on camera trying to break down a door with a fire extinguisher, was handed the most severe sentence, a suspended prison term of eight months.

Dozens of cars were set on fire and businesses trashed all along the celebrated Champs-Elysées avenue on December 1st, 2018, the third Saturday of mass demonstrations against President Emmanuel Macron.

READ ALSO: Macron risks losing support from left against Le Pen in French presidential election

He was accused of ignoring the plight of struggling French families and after months of protests he abandoned a planned fuel tax hike and raised spending on the lowest earners.

The protesters had already skirmished with security forces at earlier rallies, but police were unprepared for the rioting that engulfed the capital just a few weeks before Christmas.

Despite firing volleys of tear gas and rubber bullets, the officers were forced to abandon their positions around the Arc de Triomphe, which honours France’s war dead.

Protesters snuffed out the eternal flame over the tomb of an unknown World War I soldier and spray-painted the stone walls with graffiti including “the yellow vests will triumph”.

Others forced their way inside the arch, ransacking the gift shop and damaging scores of artworks, causing damage that cost €1.2 million to repair.

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