Yellow Vests stage rallies, shut down famed Paris store on protest anniversary

France’s Yellow Vest demonstrators staged peaceful rallies and occupied a top Parisian department store on Sunday, marking twelve months since the start of their protest movement.

The glitzy Galeries Lafayette store in the French capital’s Opera shopping district was evacuated after dozens of protesters chanting anti-capitalist and anti-government slogans took over the third floor.

The protesters were expelled shortly after by security staff.

The store – one of the top destinations in Paris for moneyed foreign tourists, which was targeted by the demonstrators as a "consumerist temple" – said it would remain closed for the rest of the day.

The protest came on a second day of demonstrations to mark the anniversary of a leaderless revolt that badly rattled President Emmanuel Macron's government.

>> A year of insurgency: How Yellow Vests left ‘indelible mark’ on French politics

Twenty people were arrested Sunday in Paris but in most places the protests were peaceful.

On Saturday, police in Paris had battled rioters for hours around the southeastern Place d'Italie square, where a Yellow Vest march was banned by the authorities.

Several cars were overturned or set alight, bus shelters were smashed and a monument to a World War II hero was defaced by demonstrators dressed in black, who wore masks to hide their faces.               

‘Unworthy of a democratic state’

A total of 173 people were arrested in Paris on Saturday, Interior Minister Christophe Castaner told Europe 1 radio. Nationwide, police made 254 arrests.

Castaner, who has been criticised for failing to act on widespread cases of police brutality during past protests, said the Paris demonstrators were mainly "thugs, brutes who came to fight the security forces and prevent the emergency services from doing their work".

But historian Mathilde Larrère wrote on Twitter that she and two friends were prevented from leaving the protest after the clashes began because of police kettling tactics.

She accused the police of tactics "unworthy of a democratic state", citing "the repeated teargassing and [stun] grenades going off everywhere".

In rural France, by contrast, the mood of the anniversary was more festive. Many Yellow Vests returned to the traffic roundabouts they occupied last year when they began rebelling against Macron's economic policies.

The interior ministry put the number of demonstrators on Saturday at 28,600 nationwide, whereas organisers said nearly 40,000 people had rallied – a far cry from the estimated 282,000 who took part in the first big day of protests on November 17, 2018.

The Yellow Vests, who accuse Macron of ruling on behalf of the urban elite, are adamant that they have not gone away.

Some in the movement are now looking to overcome their differences with trade unions, which are planning a major transport strike over pension reforms starting on December 5.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)