Yellow vest protesters demonstrate in Saint Jean De Luz, France, Saturday, Jan. 19, 2019. Yellow vest protesters are planning rallies in several French cities despite a national debate launched this week by President Emmanuel Macron aimed at assuaging their anger.(AP Photo/Bob Edme)

French yellow vests protest despite Macron's outreach

January 19, 2019 - 12:44 pm

PARIS (AP) — Thousands of yellow vest protesters rallied Saturday in several French cities for a 10th consecutive weekend, despite a national debate launched this week by President Emmanuel Macron aimed at assuaging their anger.

In Paris, about 8,000 protesters started their march at the Invalides monument in Paris, home to Napoleon's tomb, to remember the 10 people killed in protest-related traffic accidents and the hundreds injured since the movement for economic justice kicked off on Nov. 17.

French police have been criticized for using rubber projectiles that have caused several serious injuries to protesters.

"It's not normal to treat people the way we are being treated. We have injured people every Saturday," said Juliette Rebet, a demonstrator in Paris.

Protesters marched peacefully in the French capital but clashes erupted at the end of the main demonstration. Some activists wearing masks threw projectiles and knocked down a traffic light before police charged at them, using tear gas and water cannons. Thirty people were arrested in Paris, police said.

Clashes were also reported in Bordeaux, Toulouse and the western city of Rennes.

At the Invalides, protesters carrying a banner that read "Citizens in danger" marched at the front of the procession and held coffin-shaped boards in memory of those killed.

Paris deployed 5,000 police around the capital, notably around government buildings and the Champs-Elysees shopping area. About 80,000 police fanned out nationwide.

The capital and much of France have endured weeks of protests over economic demands by French workers and students that at times descended into violence. The grassroots protests started two months ago over fuel taxes but became a broader revolt against economic problems.

According to the Interior Ministry, there were 27,000 protesters across France by early Saturday afternoon, down from 32,000 at the same time the week before.

Macron is facing a plethora of demands ranging from the re-introduction of France's wealth tax on the country's richest people to the implementation of popular votes that allow citizens to propose new laws.

Macron launched his grand debate this week during meetings with mayors and local officials. The three-month-long debate involves a series of meetings organized by citizens, groups and elected officials to enable the French to express their views on the economy and democracy.

Macron has already cancelled a fuel tax hike and released other funds to help French workers. He said he is open to discussions but has warned he won't give up on his major reforms, including the touchy issue of changing France's pension system later this year.

"We do not believe in the grand debate," said Jonathan Gaby, a demonstrator from the Paris suburbs. "We won't decide, the government will decide, in the end."

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