French Minister Blames Thugs for Yellow Vest Violence in Paris

French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner blamed radicalized thugs for violence that erupted in Paris on Saturday during protests marking the first anniversary of the“Yellow Vests” movement.

Police and rioters clashed into the evening in the French capital, with authorities detaining 173 people and deploying tear gas and water cannons.

“There weren’t many protesters yesterday, rather there were brutes and thugs who came to fight,” Castaner said in an interview on CNews Sunday. He called them “ultra leftists” and “radicalized yellow vests.”

Tense standoffs unfolded mostly around the Place d’Italie in the southern part of the city, where demonstrators had gathered for a march. Organizers had used the anniversary to try to revive the movement that rocked the country at its height and led President Emmanuel Macron to unleash billions of euros of extra public spending to appease protesters.

Further protests are planned for Sunday, including one in Paris, and Macron is also facing a strike on Dec. 5 by train and hospital workers and civil servants as he weighs pension reforms.

Unhappiness with policies may be eroding his approval rating. An IFOP poll published Sunday in the Journal du Dimanche showed a 1 percentage point drop to 33% of those surveyed in November compared with the previous month. Prime Minister Edouard Philippe’s approval rating gained 1 percentage point to 37%.

At the height of the Yellow Vests movement last year, the demonstrations attracted hundreds of thousands across the country, compared with an official estimate of 28,000 on Saturday and some 4,700 in Paris.

The demonstrations were largely peaceful when they began, but violence erupted including on Dec. 1, 2018, when the Arc de Triomphe was ransacked. On several occasions there was also widespread looting and vandalism in shopping districts like the Champs-Elysees avenue.

On Saturday, a bank branch was smashed, cars overturned and set on fire and a commemorative plaque was damaged, television and social media videos showed. Rioters wearing black clothes, goggles and face coverings threw projectiles at police through thick smoke.

“Violence has become part of the movement,” Castaner said. “Radical elements in demonstrations is nothing new, but it is becoming more systematic.”

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