French Police Fire Tear Gas at Protesters

Yellow Vest protesters run from tear gas at an August 2018 protest. (Flickr)

Yellow Vest protesters run from tear gas at an August 2018 protest. (Flickr)

The Parisian police fired tear gas at protesters from the Yellow Vest movement, climate change activists, and far-left trade unionists on September 21. They fired the gas in an attempt to disperse anti-government protesters who were becoming violent, France 24 reported.

The protests started as a non-violent march by climate change activists in accordance with the global marches and strikes for climate change that occurred on September 20-22, according to DW. The protesters wanted greater governmental action in decreasing carbon emissions, preventing the melting of the Arctic, and stopping the burning of the Amazon rainforest. 

A major far-left trade union, Workers’ Force, also organized separate protests against retirement reforms, according to CBS News. The union fears that the reforms will increase working hours and decrease pensions.

However, the protests took a violent turn when anti-government protesters who sought to revive the Yellow Vest movement appeared on the scene. According to NPR, the Yellow Vest movement started as a march against the rising price of fuel, but it quickly expanded into a movement against high living prices, taxes, and the French government, specifically the French president Emmanuel Macron.

Dozens of anti-government protesters, reportedly dressed in black, interrupted the peaceful protests by setting fire to one of the barricades, breaking bank windows, and by carrying out other violent acts. The Parisian police then used tear gas to disperse protesters around the Champs-Élysée, Saint-Lazare and Place de la Madeleine. Protests were banned in these locations.

After the tear gas, the climate rally disbanded with Greenpeace advising climate change protesters to “take no risks” and “leave the march.” Youth for Climate also advised protesters to return home.

According to France 24, over 7,000 police officers took to the streets of Paris to manage the protests. French authorities prohibited protests in many parts of the city, including many governmental buildings, the Champs-Élysée, the Eiffel Tower, and the Notre Dame cathedral. Police arrested over 150 people, and almost 400 received a fine for protesting in prohibited areas of the city.

In the midst of all this commotion, France’s annual heritage weekend took place. The weekend offers exclusive opportunities to visit sites usually closed to the public such as the Champs-Élysée palace. In addition, a variety of events and celebrations took place, including food trucks and a run from Paris to Versailles. Many Parisians and tourists lined up all over Paris to celebrate and visit landmarks, which only added to the fear and chaos the protesters caused. 

In anticipation of further violence, Macron issued a statement urging “calm” during the demonstrations, and that people should be able to “express themselves” without disrupting the heritage weekend. The president has already made concessions with the Yellow Vests on taxes and wages. Despite these precautions, protests still turned violent.