PARIS — The yellow vest protest movement in France retreated further Saturday with fewer demonstrators than previous weekends, but flare-ups of violence prompted calls for peace and order from the country’s Interior Minister Christophe Castaner.
“At the time of the end-of-year celebrations, our country needs order, calm and peace,” said Castaner, in a video message posted late Saturday. The minister noted government buildings, police and firemen were attacked in cities across the country throughout the day, with patches of violence in the Montmartre neighborhood of Paris in the morning as well as its famed Avenue des Champs Elysées in the evening.
There were less than 39,000 protestors for the so-called “act VI” of the movement, the sixth Saturday of demonstrations, estimated the ministry. This was 10 times fewer than Nov. 17 and down from 66,000 last week, according to government estimates.
Jeanne d’Hauteserre, the mayor of the Eighth Arrondissement of Paris, tweeted chaotic images from BFM TV of protesters attacking police in the district she governs, noting a “scene of outrageous violence” on the Avenue George V and the Avenue des Champs-Elysées.
“It’s time for dialogue and respect, and respect for law,” said Castaner.
The movement started out as a protest against a fuel tax, but spread suddenly into an expression of broader discontent over declining living standards, taking a violent turn that caught the country by surprise.
Seeking to quell the anger, French President Emmanuel Macron’s government has been working to implement measures aimed at improving living standards. Companies across the country, including Galeries Lafayette, have joined government efforts by offering extra end-of-year bonuses before Christmas in a bid to spur last-minute holiday spending.
Retailers are still assessing the amount of business lost to the movement, which has disrupted the busiest shopping season of the year. Stores across the capital were kept open this weekend, with shopkeepers hoping for a surge in last-minute shopping.
“I am thinking about the French economy that is threatened,” said Castaner. The minister cited the activities of shopkeepers as well as the freedom for people to “move about freely, to be able, today and tomorrow, to do their Christmas shopping,” as under threat by the violence.