‘Yellow vest’ protests restart on first weekend France loosens its lockdown

With a slow and cautious lifting of the lockdown France is far from back to normal, but one feature of pre-lockdown life has re-emerged - Saturday 'yellow vest' protests.

'Yellow vest' protests restart on first weekend France loosens its lockdown
In Toulouse shopkeepers staged a counter-protest. Photo: AFP

Before France went into lockdown on March 17th the country had seen 18 months of weekly protests – albeit increasingly small and fragmented ones – from the 'yellow vest' movement.

Their traditional protest time was Saturday afternoon and on the first weekend since the lockdown rules were relaxed cities across France saw the resurgence of 'yellow vest' gatherings.

There was a heavy police presence in Montpellier and one protester was injured. Photo: AFP

Paris, Bordeaux, Montpellier, Lyon, Nantes, Strasbourg, Marseille and Toulouse were among the cities that saw demonstrations.


Although France has relaxed some rules as it moves into 'phase 1' of lifting lockdown, gatherings of more than 10 people in public places are still banned.

Police broke up gatherings of around 50 protesters in Bordeaux and Paris and groups of 300 in Lyon and 350 in Montpellier. A female protester was injured in Montpellier.

In Toulouse, shopkeepers held a counter protest, accusing 'yellow vests' of endangering public health and damaging the first weekend of trade for many businesses in two months.


Philippe Léon, from the town trader's organisation, said: “It is irresponsible for 'yellow vests' to demonstrate with the risk of contamination and irresponsible to block shops, which are on life support.”

Interior Minister Christophe Castaner added: “At a time when we need to support economic recovery and a form of freedom for our fellow citizens, those who want to hinder trade must understand that this is not necessarily the time to express themselves in this way.”

In France gatherings of 10 people or less in public spaces are allowed, although there is no limit to social gatherings in residential areas.

The government says that mass gatherings such as sports matches and concerts – and demonstrations – will probably not be allowed until September, although France's lockdown lifting strategy is gradual and depends heavily on the health situation.

READ ALSO What are the rules in socialising in France as lockdown lifts?

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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?