By Johanna Decorse
TOULOUSE (Reuters) – Yellow vest demonstrators clashed with riot police in the French city of Toulouse on Saturday, even as President Emmanuel Macron prepared a series of policy announcements aimed at quelling 22 consecutive weekends of anti-government protests.
Police in the southeastern city fired teargas and arrested 23 people after several hundred demonstrators threw objects and set fire to cars, motorbikes, a construction cabin and rubbish bins.
Protesters also tried to enter areas of the city from which they had been banned.
Altogether between 5,000 and 6,000 protesters had gathered on the Allee Jean Jaures, a wide avenue in the city centre, and on nearby side streets.
Activist groups had said on social media networks that Toulouse would be the focus for the 22nd round of demonstrations, prompting city mayor Jean-Claude Moudenc to express concern ahead of Saturday’s protests.
Marches in Paris and elsewhere were largely peaceful by late afternoon, though police detained 27 in the French capital. Minor clashes broke out near the port in Marseille.
The interior minister estimated a total of 31,000 protesters demonstrated across France, 7,000 more than on the previous Saturday but fewer than the several hundred thousand who took to the street during the first weeks of demonstrations.
The protests continue to put pressure on Macron, who has vowed to announce a series of measures aimed at easing discontent.
The protests, named after the high-visibility safety jackets worn by demonstrators, began in November to oppose fuel tax increases.
The movement quickly morphed into a broader backlash against Macron’s government, despite a swift reversal of the tax hikes and the introduction of other measures worth more than 10 billion euros ($11.3 billion) to boost the purchasing power of lower-income voters.
In response to rioting that in December made parts of Paris resemble war zones, Macron launched a two-month consultation that included a series of town hall meetings across the country. He is due to introduce resulting policy measures early next week.
Ahead of next week’s announcements, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe this week presented the conclusions of the consultation, saying it had highlighted demands such as quicker tax cuts, action to address climate change, and more balanced relations between Paris and the provinces.
Yet given the array of sometimes contradictory yellow vest demands the government is unlikely to please all those who demonstrated on Saturday. Some are already preparing a 23rd round of protests next Saturday.
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(Reporting by Johanna Decorse; Additional reporting by Inti Landauro and Emmanuel Jarry; Editing by Helen Popper and David Holmes)