Thousands of protesters took to the streets of French cities on Saturday in the fifth weekend of nationwide demonstrations against Emmanuel Macron’s government.
Around 69,000 police have been mobilised across France to prevent a repeat of the violence of previous weeks, the Interior Minister confirmed.
The movement, initially against a rise in fuel taxes, now addresses other issues, including education reforms, resulting in the worst unrest that the country has seen since the 1968 student riots.
Protestors defied government pleas to hold off after a gun attack at a Christmas market in Strasbourg earlier this week which resulted in the deaths of four people.
Numbers were down compared to Saturday last week, a police source said. Some 16,000 protesters had been counted in France, excluding Paris, compared to 22,000 at the same time on 8 December.
Seven people have died in the “gilets jaunes” or yellow vest protests so far, the latest in an accident resulting from a blockade by protesters on Friday.
Nearby, a group of topless activists from the feminist protest group Femen faced security forces a few meters away from the Elysee Palace, the president’s residence.
Loic Bollay, 44, marching on the Champs-Elysees in a yellow vest, told Reuters the protests were more subdued than in previous weeks but the movement would go on until the demonstrators’ grievances were addressed.
“Since the Strasbourg attack, it is calmer, but I think next Saturday and the following Saturdays...it will come back.”
In Paris, where groups of hundreds of protesters marched in splintered groups in several neighbourhoods, 85 had been arrested by around midday, according to a Paris police official.
On Friday, President Macron called for a return to calm in France after nearly a month of protests by the so-called ‘yellow vest’ movement against his government’s policies. The demonstrations have hit growth and caused widespread disruption.
“France needs calm, order and a return to normal,” Macron said, after a meeting of European Union leaders in Brussels.
In a televised address to the nation on Monday, Macron announced wage rises for the poorest workers and tax cuts for pensioners in further concessions meant to end the movement but many said they would maintain pressure.
The ‘yellow vest’ movement started in mid-November with protests at junctions and roundabouts against fuel tax increases, but quickly became a wider demonstration against Macron’s economic policies.
Successive weekends of protests in Paris have lead to vandalism and violent clashes with security forces.
Police used tear gas, water cannon and horses to charge protesters on roads fanning out from the Champs Elysees boulevard, but encountered less violence than a week ago.