Paris: Police fired tear gas and brought in water cannons and a horse brigade to disperse several thousand yellow vest protesters on Saturday massed near a Paris landmark at the end of a march through the French capital, the 14th straight weekend of demonstrations.
Anti-Semitic remarks hurled by a few at a noted philosopher on the protesters' route were the bitter finale to a day of tension. Acrid clouds of tear gas filled the esplanade of Les Invalides monument, obscuring the gold dome that crowns the monument housing Napoleon's tomb. Tension also marked demonstrations in other cities.
In Rouen, in Normandy, a car blocked by demonstrators pushed through the crowd, slightly injuring four people, the all-news channel BFMTV reported. Police used tear gas and water cannon in Bordeaux, a stronghold of the yellow vest movement, and other cities on the 14th straight Saturday of protests.
Another demonstration in the capital was planned for Sunday to mark three months since the movement held its first nationwide protests 17 November. In Paris, an array of insults, some anti-Semitic, by a handful of yellow vest protesters targeted a well-known French philosopher, Alain Finkielkraut, underscoring excesses that surge within an increasingly divided movement with radical fringes.
President Emmanuel Macron tweeted that "the anti-Semitic injuries he received are the absolute negation of what we are and of what makes us a great nation."
The president's was among a chorus of tweets, with Interior Minister Christophe Castaner denouncing "the surge of pure hate," while government spokesman Benjamin Griveau tweeted that "the ugly beast lurks in the anonymity of the crowd." The insults included words like "Zionist!" and "Go back to Tel Aviv!" and "We are France!"
Finkielkraut once showed sympathy for the movement but criticised it in a recent interview with Le Figaro daily. Some yellow vest protesters have expressed racist or anti-Semitic views online and on the sidelines of protests.
"I felt an absolute hate," Finkielkraut told the Sunday paper Le Journal du Dimanche. He expressed relief that police intervened. Lines of riot police used tear gas and an impressive backup, a special horse brigade and water cannons — apparently not used — to force the agitated crowd to disperse.
The Paris prosecutor's office said 15 people were detained for questioning, far less than the scores detained in earlier, larger demonstrations that degenerated into scattered rioting and destruction. Violence has marked most of the protests that started against fuel taxes and grew into a mass movement against Macron and his pro-business policies.
However, the increasingly divided movement is having trouble maintaining momentum, and support from the public that initially massively backed protesters, polls showed. French media quoted the Interior Ministry as saying that 41,500 protesters nationwide turned out Saturday, some 10,000 less than the previous week, with 5,000 in Paris.
Updated Date: Feb 17, 2019 10:34:41 IST