France’s ‘Gilets jaunes’ turn out for fifth weekend of protests
Some 69,000 police officers have been deployed across the country in anticipation of the protests, including 8,000 in the capital, according to France's Interior Ministry."We expect less people to show up, but we expect the individuals to be more determined," junior Interior Minister Laurent Nunez said Friday evening.Several thousand "gilets jaunes" protesters could be seen on the streets of Paris on Saturday morning, according to a spokesman for the Paris police — a smaller number than the previous week. Police deployed tear gas at one point.So far, 46 people have been taken into custody and about 40 more brought in for questioning in connection with the "yellow vest" protests, the spokesman said, many fewer than at the same point last week. The protests are named after the yellow high-visibility jackets French motorists must carry in their vehicles.Big Paris department stores such as the Galleries Lafayette and Printemps are open this weekend, as are the Louvre museum and the Eiffel Tower. Parts of the Champs-Elysées also reopened to traffic mid-morning Saturday.Speaking to CNN's French affiliate BFMTV, Maxime Nicolle, a spokesman for the "gilets jaunes," called for a citizens' referendum. "We are protesting peacefully, but Mr President give us back our freedom and our sovereignty!" he said.The protesters held a moment's silence at Place de l'Opéra for those who have been killed since the movement began.Authorities in northern France confirmed that a man died Friday evening in a car accident in Erquelinnes, Belgium, following a blockade by "yellow vests" near Jeumont, just over the border in France.
Macron promises social reforms
Last Saturday, many Paris tourist hotspots and stores were shuttered in anticipation of violent protests, after the previous week's demonstrations resulted in the worst riots to hit the French capital in decades. By the end of last weekend, 1,723 people had been taken in for questioning and 1,220 taken into custody, according to the Interior Ministry. Across the country, 135 people were reported injured.Under increasing pressure to respond, Macron may have taken some of the heat out of the protest when, on Monday night, he pledged to increase France's minimum wage and scrap new pension taxes in response to protesters' demands. Cold weather this weekend may also discourage some demonstrators from turning out in Paris and elsewhere.In a televised address to the nation, Macron said the violent protests — which have morphed from a grassroots movement against fuel tax hikes into disparate demonstrations against his presidency — have been "unacceptable" and "will not be in any way indulged."But he proposed several social reforms, including an increase in the minimum wage by 100 euros ($113) a month beginning in January 2019 that will not cost employers extra and a promise that overtime hours will not be taxed. Macron also remained defiant and said he would not reinstate the wealth tax but would fight tax fraud.
Journalist and political commentator Agnès Poirier told CNN that the anger felt by protesters, many of them members of the lower middle class from more rural areas, remained "very profound." But, she said, the measures announced by Macron — and his televised appearance Monday, during which he appeared more "humble" and heartfelt than in the past — may have swayed some people."We will see if the French are still supporting the movement but also if the 'yellow vests' are ready to stop demonstrating and structure themselves," said Poirier, in a reference to the grassroots nature of the movement, which has no leadership and has largely been organized through social media."They need to structure themselves to meet with the government and go to the table to start negotiating."The reforms are expected to cost the government between $8.1 billion and $10.1 billion, Olivier Dussopt, France's secretary of state to the Ministry of Public Action and Accounts, told CNN's French affiliate BFMTV.France has also been rocked this week by a terror attack on a famed Christmas market in the eastern city of Strasbourg, which left four people dead.Macron visited the Christmas market on Friday evening to express his gratitude to members of the emergency services. The suspected attacker was killed by police in Strasbourg on Thursday evening, following a two-day manhunt.
CNN's Saskya Vandoorne reported from Paris and Laura Smith-Spark wrote from London. CNN's Sandrine Amiel contributed to this report.