French yellow vest protesters set fires along a march route through Paris Saturday to drive home their message to a government they see as out of touch with the problems of the poor, and that rebuilding the fire-ravaged Notre Dame Cathedral is not the only problem France needs to solve.
Like the high-visibility yellow vests the protesters wear, the scattered small fires in Paris appeared to be a collective plea to the government to “look at me, I need help too!”
Police fired water cannon and sprayed tear gas to try to control radical elements on the margins of the largely peaceful march, one of several actions around Paris and other French cities.
The protesters were marking the 23rd weekend running of yellow vest actions against economic inequality and President Emmanuel Macron’s government, which they see as favoring the wealthy and big business at the expense of ordinary workers.
Protesters see themselves as standing up for beleaguered French workers, students and retirees who have been battered by high unemployment, high taxes and shrinking purchasing power.
The smell of tear gas fired by police mixed with the smoke, the air.filled the air.
Paris firefighters quickly responded to extinguish the flames at Saturday’s protest.
Paris police HQ said authorities detained 137 people by early afternoon and carried out spot checks on more than 14,000 people trying to enter the capital for Saturday’s protests.
The tensions focused on a march of several thousand people that started at the Finance Ministry in eastern Paris to demand lower taxes on workers and retirees and higher taxes on the rich.
Another group of about 200 people tried to march to the president’s Elysee Palace in central Paris, but riot police blocked them at the neo-classical Madeleine Church.
And, another group tried to demonstrate yellow vest mourning over the Notre Dame blaze while also keeping up the pressure on President Macron. They wanted to march to Notre Dame itself, but were banned by police, who set up a large security perimeter around the area.
Many protesters were deeply saddened by the fire at a national monument . But at the same time they are angry at the $1-B in donations for Notre Dame renovations that poured in from French tycoons while their own economic demands remain largely unmet and they struggle to make ends meet.
Some 60,000 police officers were mobilized for Saturday’s protests across France. The movement is largely peaceful but extremists have attacked treasured monuments, shops and banks and clashed with police.
The heavy police presence meant subway stations and roads around Paris were closed Saturday, stopping tourists trying to enjoy the French capital on a warm Spring day.
President Macron had been scheduled to lay out his responses to yellow vest concerns Monday night, but canceled the speech because the Notre Dame fire broke out. He’s now expected to do so next Thursday.
Some yellow vest critics accuse Macron of trying to exploit the fire for political gain. One protester carried a sign targeting President Macron that read: “Pyromaniac – we are going to carbonize you.”
Another huge sign read: “Victor Hugo thanks all the generous donors ready to save Notre Dame and proposes that they do the same thing with Les Miserables,” referring to the famed author’s novels about the cathedral and the struggles of France’s poor.
Some prominent yellow vest figures who had stopped protesting said they were returning to the streets Saturday out of an even greater sense of being overlooked since the Notre Dame tragedy.
Anti-rich messages have flourished on social media in recent days as yellow vest protesters exhorted wealthy donors to be more generous with France’s working class.
Paris is very difficult right now.