February 2, 2019
By Johnny Cotton
PARIS (Reuters) – Several thousand “yellow vest” protesters marched through Paris and other French cities on Saturday on the 12th weekend of action against the government despite opinion polls pointing to a recovery in President Emmanuel Macron’s popularity.
The protests – named after the fluorescent jackets French motorists are required to carry in their cars – began in mid-November over plans to raise fuel taxes before developing into a broader revolt against the government that mobilized tens of thousands of demonstrators nationwide each Saturday.
The government warned on Friday police would not hesitate to use flash balls in case of violence by demonstrators after it was authorized by France’s highest administrative court.
Protesters on Saturday paid homage to those injured in the past months, denouncing the use of flash ball riot control guns banned in much of Europe.
About 1,000 police officers have been injured along with 1,700 demonstrators since the start of the protests, according to official figures.
“It’s true that this intermediate weapon can hurt, but faced with rioters, the police need it to defend themselves against those who attack them,” said Interior Minister Christophe Castaner.
Opinion polls show a recovery in Macron’s battered popularity rating after he launched consultations, including town hall debates, to try to quell social unrest.
A Harris Interactive poll of 1,000 people on Friday showed Macron gaining 4 percentage points since December taking him to a 35 percent approval rating.
As in previous weeks, protesters on Saturday carried French flags and held signs attacking Macron as out of touch or calling for referendums tabled by citizens.
Protesters injured in previous weeks of violence were put at the front of the protests with some wearing eye patches with a target sign on them.
In Valance in the south of France, the mayor said measures had been taken to prepare for about 10,000 demonstrators. Authorities fear about 10 percent of those could be violent rioters.
The Interior Ministry said 80,000 security officials had been mobilized, including 5,000 in Paris.
(Additional reporting and writing by John Irish; Editing by Janet Lawrence)