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'Yellow vest' protests escalate in violence, and France scrambles to respond

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PARIS — A third week of anti-government protests intensified in violence Saturday, as demonstrators burned cars, smashed windows and confronted riot police firing tear gas in the heart of Paris in the most serious crisis of President Emmanuel Macron’s administration.

null play 'Yellow Vest' Protests Escalate in Violence, and France Scrambles to Respond (NY Times)

The “Yellow Vest” protests — spurred by an increase in the gasoline tax, and named for the roadside safety vests worn by the demonstrators — have emerged as a spontaneous outcry over declining living standards.

Diffuse, seemingly leaderless and organized over the internet, they have drawn deepening and widespread support around the country, where other demonstrations were held on Saturday. Many were peaceful though others were violent, as in the town of Le Puy-en-Velay, where protesters briefly set fire to a local prefecture.

But it was in Paris that the protests were joined by extremists on the left and right, along with anarchists, all seeking to capitalize on the simmering discontent. The violence crossed a new threshold for the Macron administration, and raised alarm even in a country where organized protest is commonplace.

Even if mostly perpetrated by vandals who have now latched on to the movement, the symbolism of the day’s violence was powerful. A modern-day peasants’ and workers’ revolt against a president increasingly disdained for his regal remove turned the country’s richest boulevards and most prominent landmarks into veritable war zones.

Confrontations between the police and demonstrators, alongside the professional vandals called “casseurs” by the French, spread to several of the city’s most famous sites including Concorde and Trocadero.

By nightfall, some 100 people had been injured, including one who was in a coma; 268 people had been arrested, according to police.

A Yellow Vest representative from Indres, who was interviewed on France BFM TV, said Macron needed to take drastic steps, “recognizing that this is a serious moment for our country.”

The problem, said Bernard Sananès, president of Elabe, a French polling organization, is that “there are two Frances.”

“One is a France that feels left behind and moving down” the socio-economic ladder, he said in an interview Saturday on BFMTV.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

Alissa J. Rubin © 2018 The New York Times

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