French “yellow vest” demonstrators occupied a top Parisian department store yesterday, a day after clashes in the capital on the first anniversary of the protest movement.
The glitzy Galeries Lafayette store in Opera shopping district was evacuated after dozens of protesters chanting anti-capitalist and anti-government slogans took over the third floor.
The protesters were expelled shortly after by security staff.
Videos showed dozens of protesters standing on the floors of Galeries Lafayette, singing Joyeux Anniversaire, the French version of Happy Birthday.
According to the newspaper Le Parisien, the mood was peaceful.
The “yellow vests” had already announced their intention to occupy a large department store on the weekend of the anniversary as a criticism of consumer society.
The store – one of the top destinations in Paris for moneyed foreign tourists, which was targeted by the demonstrators as a “consumerist temple” – said that it would remain closed for the rest of the day.
The protest came on a second day of demonstrations to mark the anniversary of a leaderless revolt that badly rattled President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist government.
Twenty people were arrested yesterday in Paris but in most places the protests were peaceful.
On Saturday, police in Paris had battled rioters for hours around the southeastern Place d’Italie square, where a “yellow vest” march was shut down by the authorities after turning violent.
Several cars were overturned or set alight, bus shelters were smashed and a monument to a World War II hero Marshal Alphonse Juin was defaced by demonstrators dressed in black, who wore masks to hide their faces.
A total of 173 people were arrested in Paris on Saturday, Interior Minister Christophe Castaner told Europe 1 radio.
Nationwide, police made 254 arrests.
“Yesterday, what we saw were few (legitimate) demonstrators but thugs, bullies and morons,” he told Europe 1 radio when asked about the violence in Paris on Saturday.
Castaner claimed that the “thugs, brutes … came to fight the security forces and prevent the emergency services from doing their work”.
But leftist TV historian Mathilde Larrere wrote on Twitter that she and two friends were prevented from leaving the protest after the clashes began because of police kettling tactics.
She accused the police of tactics “unworthy of a democratic state”, citing “the repeated teargassing and (stun) grenades going off everywhere”.
In rural France, by contrast, the mood of the anniversary was more festive.
Many “yellow vests” returned to the traffic roundabouts they occupied last year when they began rebelling against Macron’s economic policies.
The interior ministry put the number of demonstrators on Saturday at 28,600 nationwide but the organisers said nearly 40,000 people had rallied – a far cry from the estimated 282,000 who took part in the first big day of protests on November 17, 2018.
The “yellow vests”, who accuse Macron of ruling on behalf of the urban elite – the spark for the protests was a series of fuel price hikes that squeezed car-dependent rural-dwellers – are adamant that they have not gone away.
They are now looking to join forces with the trade union movement, which is planning a major transport strike over pension reforms starting on December 5.
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