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The Yellow Vests Are Back: Calls for Weekend Demonstrations in Spite of Government Bans

After a weekend of turmoil in Paris, France's yellow vest movement called for further demonstrations, in defiance of government bans.

On social media, the antigovernment movement made a “national call” for demonstrations in the southern city of Nice on March 23. The appeal came despite a new, tougher stance adopted by the French government following devastation on the Champs-Élysées last weekend.

Le Monde reported French President Emmanuel Macron told his ministers Wednesday that French antiterror troops from Operation Sentinel would be mobilized to face the yellow vests following the recent riots. His prime minister, Édouard Philippe, canceled a planned trip to Guyana to oversee security operations in the French capital for the coming weekend.

Ten thousand protesters took part in the most recent demonstrations in Paris, during which rioters smashed shops, vandalizing a Boss menswear store and a Longchamp handbag outlet. The brunt of the violence was meted out at the elite Fouquet's restaurant, frequented by former French presidents and government officials. According to the BBC, 91 businesses were damaged during the riots, nearly all of them seriously vandalized.

Tear gas billowed against the backdrop of Paris’s world-famous Arc de Triomphe, and acrid smoke rose from blazes started in shop fronts. The chairs and tables synonymous with the French capital’s café culture, usually filled on the weekends with tourists and residents alike, added fuel to the flames. French police, clad in black riot gear, were pushed onto the defensive as rioters tore cobblestones from the streets and threw them at the opposing lines.

Philippe said his government would ban yellow vest rallies. “From next Saturday, we will ban yellow vest protests in neighbourhoods that have been the worst hit as soon as we see signs of the presence of radical groups and their intent to cause damage," the French premier said Monday. The restrictions are set to be imposed in Paris and other French cities.

As tension grows ahead of a potential showdown in Nice this weekend, the city’s mayor has requested the yellow vest ban be extended to Nice. Writing on Twitter, Christian Estrosi characterized the calls for the demonstrations in Nice as “violent” and “provocative,” adding he would never allow Nice to become the “prey of wreckers.”

The protests by the yellow vests, known in France as the "gilets jaunes," spread across France over the past four months. Their grievances, initially over a fuel tax increase, fueled a broader antigovernment sentiment combining a constellation of populist grievances against perceived elitism, Macron’s government and the European Union.

The political gains Marcon made following a two-month “great national debate” precipitated by the yellow vest riots now appear to be in tatters. The nationwide protests had somewhat subsided when the young French president seized the initiative. Former government minister and opposition politician Patrick Devedjian was quoted by the Financial Times as saying, “It worked well. He was good.” The recent protests put an end to that way of thinking.

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