France’s yellow vest protesters join union march, a first yesterday

Photo: AFP

France’s yellow vest protest movement joined ranks Tuesday with a major union, a first for both, in a day of nationwide protests over taxes and buying power that brought tens of thousands into the streets.

Brief scuffles marked the mostly calm Paris demonstration. Police fired several rounds of tear gas, clearing troublemakers from the Place de la Concorde, which borders the U.S. Embassy.

Tear gas was also used in Lille and elsewhere.

However, tension was minimal compared with the weekly protests held since mid-November by the yellow vest movement to demand fiscal and social justice in a major challenge to President Emmanuel Macron.

As protesters marched, lawmakers in the National Assembly, the lower house of parliament, voted 387-92 to pass a bill aimed at preventing violence during protests, and helping authorities maintain order.

The bill would, for instance, authorize regional prefects to prevent people seen as a serious threat to public order from protesting, or force protesters involved in violence to pay for damage.

The bill, which must go before the Senate, would also make it a crime for protesters to conceal their faces — a common occurrence during Saturday protests by the yellow vest movement, by both those trying to offset the effects of tear gas and by troublemakers concealing their identities.

Meanwhile, the Communist-backed CGT union marched from Paris City Hall to the Place de la Concorde side-by-side with protesters from the yellow vest movement, which takes its name from the safety vests they wear that are required in all cars.

Union chief Philippe Martinez cheered the hand-in-hand protests with the yellow vests, promising daily initiatives and “something big” each Tuesday.

He noted overlapping demands between his union and yellow vest protesters.

“There’s no reason why we shouldn’t demonstrate next to each other or one behind another. What’s important is that our first day together is a success, in the middle of the week,” he said.

“I find business leaders have it easy and it’s time we hold big company bosses in this country accountable,” Martinez said.

The grassroots yellow vest movement has no anointed leader and an array of demands.

However, increasing buying power and ending what they perceive as favoritism toward the powerful at the expense of the less fortunate are leading demands.

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