By Nikitha Kamath
February 23rd, marked the 15th straight weekend of demonstrations in which thousands of yellow vest protesters actively took to the streets all across France, trying to re-energize supporters while also tamping down on the violence and anti-Semitism among the movement’s ranks. During the past week, the French government reported a huge rise in incidents of anti-Semitism last year, sparking the extremist views of some protesters who erupted in a torrent of anti-Semitic insults hurled at noted philosopher Alain Finkielkraut on the sidelines of a Paris protest. Hundreds also gathered at the Arc de Triomphe monument in Paris to march through affluent neighborhoods in order to protest government policies they view as favoring the rich. Five separate demonstrations involving 4,000 protesters were organized in the French capital, and according to the Interior Ministry, around 46,600 protesters were scattered across France.
The yellow vest movement, which has taken France by storm, was named after the fluorescent garments that French motorists are required to carry in their vehicles for emergencies. These protests started in November to oppose fuel tax hikes, but have since expanded into a broader public rejection of French President Emmanuel Macron’s economic policies, which protesters say favor businesses and the wealthy over ordinary French workers. Recently, Macron has attempted to assuage protesters’ anger by making certain concessions, including rolling back the fuel tax hike and holding forums where officials can better listen to public demands.
Support for the movement has ebbed in recent weeks as it has splintered, and outbreaks of violence continue. Tensions grew intensely at the end of the main demonstration at the Trocadero plaza, next to the Eiffel Tower, and French police used tear gas to disperse protesters. Local authorities in the central French city of Clermont-Ferrand urged residents on Saturday to avoid downtown, where 2,500 yellow vest protesters clashed with police forces.
The prefecture said police arrested 15 people—including eight who were placed in custody—and seized weapons including baseball bats and alarm pistols.
The outcome of these protests is uncertain as divisions continue to grow among the ranks of the movement.