Gilets jaunes return: Protests planned for Saturday

Tensions between protesters and police are already rising online, amid fears that anti-maskers and nightclub owners will participate in protests alongside the gilets jaunes

11 September 2020
By Joanna York

Gilets jaunes groups have reactivated on social media, after months of relative quiet during the Covid-19 health crisis, with country-wide protests planned tomorrow (Saturday, September 12).

In a Facebook post Jérôme Rodrigues, one of the leaders of the group, encouraged widespread participation from workers unhappy with how the government has handled the health crisis.  

He wrote: “Medical staff, firemen, restaurant owners, labourers, health workers, civil servants… Let’s raise our voices so that the government can hear the discontent of families in France, who unfortunately are going to have to pay the price for the disastrous management of the health crisis.” 

Tomorrow’s protest comes almost two years after the first gilets jaunes protest, which gathered 300,000 people in the streets in France.

Last year’s anniversary protests were violent, with buildings, cars and memorials being vandalised. 

Protests planned throughout France

Numerous Facebook groups and events have been organised for tomorrow, with protests planned in cities including Marseille, Nice (Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur), Toulouse (Occitanie), Lyon (Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes), Lille (Hauts de France), Nantes (Pays de la Loire), Strasbourg (Grand Est), and more. 

Some Paris protests already banned 

In Paris (Ile-de-France) four protests are planned across the city, starting at 10:00 in Place Wagram, Place de la Republique, Place de la Bourse, and the Champs-Elysées despite a prefectorial ban on gathering there.

Two protests have also been refused permission to go ahead in the capital. Both were set to start from the Arc de Triomphe and moving down the Champs-Elysées.

The Prefecture de Police refused the two protests on health and safety grounds. It judged that they were “likely to generate public disorder and to bring together numerous people, without organisers being able to guarantee that hygiene and social distancing measures can be respected”.

Additional decrees are in place banning protests near significant sites in Paris from 18:00 this evening. These include the Champs-Elysées, Place de la Concorde, Trocadéro, the Assemblée Nationale, Hôtel Matignon, Notre-Dame Cathedral, the Prefecture de Police, Les Halles shopping centre, Saint-Lazare station, and the Champ-de-Mars. 

Tensions rising between protesters and authorities online

Mr Rodrigues, who lost an eye during a previous protest, called for “complete civil disobedience” during tomorrow’s protests in a Facebook post. 

He encouraged his 110,000 online followers to refuse to show their identity cards if asked during the protest.

In response, police union Synergie-Officers tweeted that they had filed a legal complaint against Mr Rodrigues.

Mr Rodrigues then responded with a tweet calling police a “bunch of nazis” and accusing them of hiding a “concentration camp” in the north of Paris.

Minister for the interior Gérald Darmanin then intervened with a tweet saying that he was also filing a complaint against Mr Rodrigues for his “vile” accusations against the police.

Support for protesters

Political party France Insoumise is supporting the protests on September 12. Party leader Éric Coquerel said in a tweet: “I support the September 12 protests. Their anger is legitimate and must be heard.”

Many anti-maskers are also expected to be among protesters. A study from the Fondation Jean Jaurès found that 22% of anti-maskers interviewed had participated in a gilets jaunes protest in 2018. An additional 57% had not attended a protest but did support the cause.

Nightclub owners, who have seen their businesses destroyed by the Covid-19 crisis, are also expected to join protests. A Facebook group called the Collectif des Discothèques en Colère ("Angry Nightclub Collective") has 350 followers that plan to meet at the Champs-Elysées in Paris.

However, another leader of the gilets jaunes group, Jean-Maris Bigard, will not attend protests in Paris. Following the online dispute between Mr Rodrigues and the police, Mr Bigard has decided to attend protests in Brest (Brittany) instead.

Related stories

Small anti-mask protest in Paris ends with mass fines

Strikes and protests called for September 17

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