Unions, leftwing parties, join 'yellow vests' march

Elisabeth ROLLAND, Jean-Louis PREVOST
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Saturday's demonstration in Paris was called by the militant CGT union

Saturday's demonstration in Paris was called by the militant CGT union (AFP Photo/Zakaria ABDELKAFI)

Paris (AFP) - Thousands of trade unionists and left wing activists joined "yellow vest" protesters in Paris Saturday in rejecting French President Emmanuel Macron's proposed tax cuts as too little too late.

The march in the capital, organised by the militant CGT union, came ahead of the main rally in the eastern city of Strasbourg, where demonstrators clashed with police.

Veterans of the "yellow vest" movement, which started in rural France six months ago in opposition to planned rises in the diesel price and tax on pensions, led the Paris procession.

But in a new development, senior figures from the political left marched with them, including lawmaker Jean-Luc Melenchon, a political rival and vocal critic of Macron.

In the early months of the movement, which has ballooned into an anti-government rebellion with weekly marches drawing thousands, leading figures resisted attempts by parties on the far left or far right to get involved, fearing their cause would be hijacked.

Macron rolled back some of his more controversial measures within weeks of the first protest, and on Thursday announced more tax cuts and measures to help people on small pensions.

For his critics however, this came too late -- and Macron remains under fire for refusing to reverse a cut in the "fortune solidarity tax" on high earners.

- Clashes in Strasbourg -

The interior ministry said 23,000 people demonstrated across France on Saturday, some 2,600 of them in Paris. The movement, however, estimated the turnout at over 60,000 nationally, and 9,000 in the capital.

The official figure was one of the lowest yet -- at its height last November the movement drew 282,000 to Saturday marches countrywide, according to an official count.

In Strasbourg, police sealed off access to major European Union institutions in keeping with a local ban on protests in the city centre.

Clashes broke out after police blocked the protesters' route to the European Parliament building. Some threw stones and bottles at riot police, who fired tear gas in turn.

Police also pushed back a group of activists, some masked and dressed in black, who tried to force their way to the Council of Europe building.

Local officials said about 2,000 people took part in the Strasbourg protests, with 42 arrested after protesters damaged property, setting fire to a car.

Three police officers, three demonstrators and a local resident were hurt in the clashes, and received medical treatment.

In the south, police fired tear gas in the city of Marseille where about 1,000 people turned out.

"The questions of social justice, the central question of the yellow vest movement, have not been addressed," said 46-year-old Natacha, one of an estimated 1,500 demonstrators in Montpellier.

Extremist groups have issued calls on social media for yellow vest supporters to join forces with the so-called "Black Bloc" -- radical activists blamed for some of the damage and violence that has marred the weekly protests -- at May Day rallies in Paris next Wednesday.

According to interior ministry figures, 2,400 protesters and 1,700 law enforcers have been injured since the yellow vest movement started.