Some 2,200 Yellow Vest protesters gathered at various sites in Paris for the fifth Saturday in a row, according to official figures, a marked downturn compared to last week’s headcount of roughly 10,000.
Following unrest last Saturday, the 33,500 protesters nationwide (compared to 77,000 the previous week) met with a hefty security force presence of 69,000. In Paris alone 8,000 police officers and 14 armoured vehicles were deployed.
The protesters clashed with security forces on the Champs-Elysees, with tear gas used to disperse the crowds. Yet the number of arrests was significantly down from last week: 90 as compared to 598 by the same point in the afternoon, according to police.
Protesters wearing fluorescent yellow safety vests have staged rallies and blocked roads across France since mid-November, sparked by planned fuel-tax rises that the government said were necessary to support environmental measures.
Yet their demands have since evolved in some instances into calls for more direct democracy, for a popular referendum and French President Emmanuel Macron to step down.
Ministers had repeatedly appealed for the protests to be called off this weekend after four people were killed in a Tuesday knife and gun attack at the Christmas market in the city of Strasbourg.
The president will also likely be waiting to see whether protesters have been assuaged by a package of concessions he announced on Monday. They include extra money for low-paid workers, and tax breaks on overtime and some pensions.
On Friday, Macron said that France needed calm, order, and a return to “normal functioning.” He appealed to protesters to join in a wider national debate that he promised on a broad range of policy issues.
But many prominent figures in the largely leaderless movement said they planned to head back to the streets anyway.
Some 2,000 people were arrested throughout France last Saturday, as police grappled with rioting, burning cars and looted shops.
The atmosphere this weekend was calmer. Tourist sites around the capital, including the Louvre museum and the Eiffel Tower, opened as usual after shutting their doors last Saturday.
Paris police chief Michel Delpeuch said policing arrangements would be similar to last week, with widespread searches of people and cars ahead of the protests and mobile units of riot police primed to deal with any outbreaks of disorder.
Several people have lost their lives in accidents at roadblocks since the protest movement kicked off.
On Friday, a man died when he drove his car into a lorry in the Belgian region of Erquelinnes that had been blocked by a closed-off road on the French side of the border.