Yellow Vest protests in Paris turned violent on Saturday in front of the National Assembly, with one protester losing a hand amid reports of other casualties.
Paramedics huddled around the injured protester near the gates of the National Assembly as they provided emergency treatment. Some of the paramedics served as a barrier to stop media and demonstrators from getting too close. Police confirmed that a protester had a hand injury but provided no further details other than to say treatment was being provided.
Another man had blood streaming down his face in front of a line of riot police.
Police used batons and fired tear gas in Paris to disperse demonstrators, some of whom threw debris at riot police hunkered down.
Fire department spokesman Gildas Lecoeur told The Associated Press that the injured man was taken to a hospital, but he couldn’t confirm his current condition.
A car, motorbikes and multiple trash bins were set ablaze as the protest moved toward the city’s Invalides monument but France’s Interior Ministry said this week’s protest was significantly smaller than last week’s.
Police said 17 demonstrators had been arrested as scuffles broke out between protesters and police near the Champs-Elysees Avenue and the National Assembly. The Interior Ministry put the total number of protesters around France at 12,000, including 4,000 in Paris. The police source, however, told Reuters that numbers were higher, with 21,000 demonstrators taking part in rallies outside Paris.
Protest movement internally divided
The protests have been increasingly plagued by internal quarrels, with supporters disagreeing on both the means to and the political end game. Some are willing to ally with trade unions to exact more government concessions; others continue to mistrust them. Most want to continue ratcheting up the pressure, even demanding the resignation of French President Emmanuel Macron.
But the number of protesters has fallen over the last two Saturdays. An estimated 58,600 people demonstrated throughout France on February 2, according to the interior ministry, although the Yellow Vests claim some 116,000 demonstrators took to the streets.
A demonstration is scheduled to start Saturday morning at Place de l’Étoile while three additional rallies have also been announced by Éric Drouet, a truck driver and spokesman of the Gilets Jaunes movement.
Various events are also planned in other cities, including Montpellier, Lille, Nantes, Rennes, Brest, Caen and Lorient.
“There is a lot of tension, a lot of ill intentions, a lot of impatience,” Drouet said in a live video on Wednesday. He explained that he was working on a “completely legal” strategy to force Macron to resign.
And some of these tensions have boiled over into the diplomatic sphere. Luigi Di Maio, leader of Italy’s Five-Star Movement and deputy prime minister, caused a major rift with France on Tuesday when he met members of the Yellow Vests to show his support.