PARIS – France’s prime minister met Monday with police officers targeted by violent yellow vest protesters, in a show of support amid growing concerns about growing brutality from both sides.
Prime Minister Edouard Philippe visited a motorcycle police unit involved in an incident Saturday near the glittering Champs-Elysees avenue in central Paris.
In the incident, during the sixth straight weekend of protests by the grassroots movement protesting high taxes and other economic problems, an officer pulled a gun after protesters kicked over his motorcycle. He did not fire it, but the move prompted a surge of anger by demonstrators hurling paving stones and other projectiles that drove the officer and his team to flee.
Overall, the number of protesters Saturday was sharply down from previous weekends, and most actions were peaceful. But despite multiple concessions from President Emmanuel Macron, the movement isn’t over and one group is calling for Christmas protests Monday and Tuesday on the Champs-Elysees, and others are planning action on New Year’s Eve.
Many protesters have denounced what they describe as disproportionate responses by police that include multiple beatings also captured on video. Hundreds of people have been injured in the clashes, mainly protesters but also police officers and journalists.
Police say they’re acting in self-defense, and defended the officer who brandished his gun, saying it served as a deterrent to protect his colleagues.
Meanwhile, Paris authorities are investigating alleged anti-Semitic comments by yellow vest protesters in the city subway toward a woman whose father died at Auschwitz.
A journalist described on Twitter witnessing the incident Saturday night. The woman’s nephew identified his aunt as the target of the comments.
The Paris prosecutor’s office said Monday that an investigation has been opened into public insults based on race or religion and denying crimes of humanity.
Some protesters in the yellow vest movement have expressed extreme or racist views. But research into its followers and their online comments has found that the movement as a whole is a broad-based grassroots phenomenon with no single political bent that includes people from many sectors of society.
It began with anger of a rise in taxes on gasoline and diesel, which is why the protesters wear the fluorescent emergency vests that all French motorists are required to carry in their vehicles.