'Yellow vest' protesters take to streets of France for fifth week as Macron appeals for 'order'
“Yellow vest” protesters took to the streets in France on Saturday, for the fifth week of protests that have brought Paris and other cities to a standstill -- after embattled President Emmanuel Macron called for “calm” and “order” from demonstrators.
"Our country needs calm. It needs order. It needs to function normally again," Macron said in Brussels, as he attended an E.U. summit.
Police, as well as protesters, turned out in their numbers on Saturday morning -- deploying 8,000 officers and 14 armored vehicles in the capital alone. Shops closed and windows were boarded up in anticipation of the demonstrations -- which have frequently turned violent. At least 85 people in Paris were detained.
Protesters also gathered in Bordeaux, Lyon and Nantes.
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"Macron, we're not stupid," said a cardboard sign, according to Le Monde. "Macron resign", others said.
Scuffles broke out in Paris and police fired tear gas to disperse a crowd trying to make their way through police blockades, The BBC reported.
Macron’s government has been scrambling to stop the protests, which have garnered international attention and mark the biggest crisis of his presidency.
The "yellow vests" or “yellow jackets” -- named after the yellow hi-vis jackets French motorists are mandated to keep in their vehicles -- started as a protest against Macron’s proposed hike in gas taxes, but eventually turned into a broader movement protesting against Macron’s centrist government.
Macron initially stood firm, but as his poll ratings dived as low as 18 percent, his government scrapped the proposed tax increases. His government has since floated increases in the minimum wage and a reinstitution of the wealth tax -- abolished last year -- as a way to assuage what started as a rural, working class movement.
Macron has faced criticism that he is too aloof and is out of touch with the needs of the people, as he also travels abroad and makes speeches about the need for multilateralism. This week he comfortably won a confidence vote in parliament.
Despite his concessions to the “gilet jaunes,” on Friday he condemned the violence that had marked the protests on prior weekends.
"I don't think our democracy can accept to function with a dialogue that is carried out only with the occupation of the public domain, only by elements of violence," Macron said.
There were some indications Saturday that his government’s tactics may be taking the air out of the demonstrations somewhat. Le Monde reported Saturday that mobilization was down sharply.
Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal reported that French security services are looking into an alleged Russian role in social media activity that has amplified the protests, and spread misinformation. In addition to anonymous social-media accounts, pro-Russian activists in France are reportedly helping to increase turnout.
“There has been some suspect activity,” a French cybersecurity official told the outlet. “We are in the process of looking at its impact.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.