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France's Yellow Vest protesters unbowed despite decline in numbers

media French Gendarmes apprehend yellow vest protester during a demonstration by the "yellow vests" movement in Paris, France, December 15, 2018. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

Groups of defiant Yellow Vest demonstrators faced off with tens of thousands of police around France on Saturday, but their numbers were sharply lower on a fifth and decisive weekend for the anti-government movement


President Emmanuel Macron, facing the biggest crisis of his presidency, announced a series of concessions on Monday to defuse the explosive "yellow vest" crisis, which swelled up from rural and small-town France last month.

He was hoping that the package of tax and minimum wage measures for low-income workers, coupled with bitter winter weather this weekend, would help bring calm to the country after more than month of clashes and disruption.

President Emmanuel Macron's address on Monday, December 10


France was also hit by a fresh terror attack on Tuesday night when a gunman opened fire at a Christmas market in Strasbourg, leading the government to urge people to stay at home to spare the country's stretched security forces.

At midday, an estimated 33,500 people had taken to the streets, according to figures from the interior ministry, around half the level at the same time last weekend.

Protests at Opera

"It's a bit disappointing. We expected there to be more people, but the movement won't end," Francis Nicolas, a 49-year-old labourer, told the French news agency AFP in the southeastern city of Lyon.

There were only a few hundred people dressed in the florescent yellow high-visibility jackets in front of the city's main court building, compared with 7,000-10,000 last weekend.

In Paris, police outnumbered protesters by nearly 4-1 in the early afternoon, with around 2,200 protesters counted on the streets of the capital by local authorities compared with 10,000 last week.

Security forces played a game of cat-and-mouse with groups of them as they roamed around shouting slogans through the centre of Paris, much of which was cordoned off from traffic.

There were isolated incidents of tear gas being fired, but a fraction of the amount used on the weekends of December 8 or December 1 when graffiti was daubed on the Arc de Triomphe in scenes that shocked France.

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