French Yellow Vests Weaker but Still Going at Six-Month Mark

(Bloomberg) -- France’s Yellow Vest demonstrations drew a lower turnout and drifted away from Paris to smaller cities on Saturday, suggesting the movement is weakening as it hits the six-month mark.

Police estimated 18,600 people took to the streets around France, including 1,200 in the capital, on the movement’s 26th Saturday of protests, AFP reported, citing the interior ministry. Last Saturday, police counted fewer than 19,000 protesters nationwide, already the lowest turnout since November.

The Yellow Vests, a decentralized movement that began in opposition to higher gasoline taxes, has expanded its list of grievances to include demands for a higher minimum wage and increased pensions. President Emmanuel Macron last month promised tax cuts for the middle class in an effort to calm the protesters. Still, a poll on Tuesday found that 47% of the French support the Yellow Vests, up 3 points from 10 days earlier.

Turnout at the protests, and the level of violence, has waxed and waned depending on the weekend. Some Saturdays have led to shocking footage of street battles between protesters and police, the ransacking of the Arc de Triomphe and looting of shops and restaurants. On others, the events unfold with little violence. Masked anarchist protesters known as Black Blocs have joined in the demonstrations.

In Paris on May 11, hundreds assembled midday south of the Seine river, in the student-packed neighborhood surrounding the Jussieu university campus. While demonstrations in the French capital remained orderly, Lyon and Nantes were rowdier at times as some protesters threw objects at police officers.

As long as the unrest continues, Macron faces a looming political test. His Republic on the Move Party narrowly trails the far-right National Rally party of Marine Le Pen in the European Union parliamentary elections on May 26, according to a Harris Interactive poll published Saturday.

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