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Europe

French Yellow Vests keep the pressure on government with 'Act XXII' protests

media nti-riot police officers walk amid smoke as Yellow Vests protesters take to the streets for the 22nd consecutive Saturday, on April 13, 2019, in Toulouse. Pascal Pavani, AFP

There are early reports of confrontations between ‘black block’ protesters in Toulouse at the start of the 22nd consecutive weekend of demonstrations by Yellow Vests.

Edited 19:00:  Thirty-one thousand people demonstrated on Saturday throughout France, including 5,000 in Paris, for the 22nd act of Yellow Vest protests, according to the French interior ministry. Last week, 22,300 demonstrators took to the streets, the lowest turnout since the five-month anti-government movement began, the ministry said.

The collective "Numero Jaune" or yellow number said that some 80,504 people demonstrated throughout the country, compared to 73,420 last week.

Two people were injured in Toulouse, where the centre of the protests took place, and 23 people arrested, according to the Toulouse police department.

Edited 18:00: The leader of France’s Unbowed France party, Jean-Luc Mélenchon demonstrated in Paris alongside Yellow Vest protesters. On Twitter, he wrote: on the streets “to defend civil rights and the right to demonstrate.”

Edited 16:30: Police arrested fifteen people in Paris and carried out more than 5,800 checks on demonstrators at 16H00 (GMT), as part of new powers given to them by France's new anti-rioters bill passed on Thursday.

Yellow Vest protesters organized a procession calling for "the right to protest" and "an end to a repressive law" at place de la République, before joining rights organisations such as Amnesty International and SOS Racisme for a march "to defend the right to demonstrate."

At 14H00 (GMT), 7,500 demonstrators were reported in France including 1,300 in Paris, according to the French interior ministry.

The Paris police department banned all demonstrations on the Champs Elysées-Avenue and surrounding areas for the third consecutive week, after demonstrators damaged, burned and looted shops there.

On one street in the 19th district, graffiti signs on the wall read "16 March, the rich lose the Champs, 13 April we will take the Capitole," in reference to the city centre in Toulouse, the epicenter of this weekend's protests, which saw clashes earlier in the day.

***

Edited 16:09:

2019_04_13 Protests continue in Toulouse

***

Edited 14:20: The Toulouse police department has justified the use of tear gas against "individuals dressed in black, masked and armed," who tried to attack security officers "with flying objects."

Yellow Vest leaders however have slammed the use of force.

"Did you see: everything was going well and they gassed us," Fly Rider-Maxime Nicolle, one of the main leaders, told AFP.

"I decided to come here because there was a national call" to make Toulouse the epicenter of this 22nd act, "but I am disappointed with the response," he said.

Less than an hour after the start of this 22nd Act, concentrating this time in France's 'Pink City,' clashes broke out between police and demonstrators clad in black.

***

Black bloc protesters are protesters who wear black clothing, scarves, sunglasses, ski masks, motorcycle helmets with padding, or other face-concealing and face-protecting items.

It is unclear as yet how widespread the confrontations have been, but, for the moment at least, the situation is calm albeit tense.

This after Toulouse was named “capital” of this week’s protest, the first since a controversial anti-rioting law took effect on Thursday.

Protests are also slated for Paris, Marseille, Lille and other cities.

Against Emmanuel Macron

On social media, Yellow Vest protesters in Toulouse have been called on to keep up the fight against President Emmanuel “Macron and his world” and to “show that everything is just getting started after the results of the big debate”.

There has been a strong mobilization in this city since the beginning of the movement - with up to 10,000 protesters identified in January.

Those numbers have been swelled by reinforcements from Bordeaux and Montpellier, but also the presence of figures of the protest, Priscilla Ludosky or Fly Rider-Maxime Nicolle.

Some activists, however, fear a holiday effect, slimming the processions after the decline already recorded last week.

This is the first demonstration since the government signed into law a new anti-rioters bill, banning demonstrators from covering their faces, otherwise they risk a year in prison and a fine of 15,000 euros.

"These are no longer people who are calling for their rights, these are rioters," Anne-Christine Lang, a member of Emmanuel Macron's Republic on the Move party told BFM TV.

The clashes underscore the controversy surrounding the new anti-rioting law, which the country’s Constitutional Council partially censured when it took effect on Thursday. Dozens of organisations, such as Amnesty International consider it to be undemocratic.

On social media, Twitter users such as @nonouzi say it gives too much power to the police.

The objective of Saturday's Act 22, which also saw demonstrations in Paris, Lille and Lyon, was to re-energise the Yellow Vest movement, following its lowest turnout on Saturday 6 April with less than 21,000 people taking to the streets.

This 22nd edition also comes as President Emmanuel Macron prepares to give the conclusions of his Great National Debate.

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