‘It just feels good to vent your anger’: Spasms of violence Jolt Paris

As a huge march against an unpopular pensions overhaul wound down in Paris, small groups of young protesters began planning their next move as night fell.

“Let’s go to the Bastille,” a man in his twenties told his friends. Another, checking social media on his phone, said: ‘It seems Châtelet is the meeting point’, referring to another section of the capital. A few minutes later, the groups slipped out of the square.

Thus began a “wild protest”, as the participants call these activities, in which groups of a few dozen young men and women, some dressed in black and masked, roam the streets, overturning bicycles and city scooters and setting fires while playing cat and mouse with the police. “Paris, get up! they chanted.

Wild protests have become a fixture of Parisian nightlife after the French government pushed through a pensions bill last week raising the retirement age to 64, from 62, without a vote in the vote. lower house of parliament.

Support for the protesters is not universal. In a narrow street, a woman threw a bucket of water from her window at protesters who were setting fire to uncollected rubbish. Laurent Berger, the head of France’s biggest union, the CFDT, condemned the violence, saying it risked undermining the fight against the pension overhaul.

But for now, at least, protesters are undeterred. “We realized that staying within the bounds of the law was not working,” said Maximilien Moreau, a 22-year-old student who has joined several wild protests, citing the many marches organized by unions that have not yet taken place. failed to get the government to move. “If we want things to really change, we have to raise the bar,” he added.

Thursday evening, a motley group of several dozen young demonstrators left the Place de l’Opéra in Paris. After about half a mile of walking on the Boulevard des Italiens, they plunge into the cobbled streets of the capital. In no time, they were throwing piles of trash left uncollected by protesting workers in the middle of the street, blocking traffic.

Trash cans, scaffolding, construction fences, as well as bicycles and scooters – practically everything within easy reach – were overturned. Every sound of a construction fence hitting the ground brought cheers.

“It just feels good to express your anger,” said Alexandra Joly, 33, who marched with the group, chanting anti-government and anti-police slogans.

Although she did not participate in the vandalism, Ms. Joly nevertheless defended it. She said it was the last option to have their demands heard by the French government, after it used a constitutional maneuver to push through the pensions bill.

Several protesters said it was frustration over the rarely used measure that drove them to such acts. They pointed to the success of the Yellow Vest movement four years ago, which was marked by heavy violence in the streets and ultimately forced the government to drop a fuel tax increase, as evidence that such aggressiveness can pay off.

“We have to step up the fight,” Ms. Joly said. “Besides, what we are doing is less violent than the social violence of this reform.”

Moving to the right bank of Paris, the protesters passed by the Louvre and headed for the chic streets of the Marais. People having cocktails on the terraces of cafes looked on in amazement.

“Don’t look at us! Join us!” chanted the demonstrators, as if to awaken the old beating heart of revolutionary Paris.

Emboldened by the crowd, a 60-something man in a tweed jacket briefly joined the group and knocked over a trash can, to cheers from the young people around him.

Some demonstrators were looking for rallying points on social networks, but their journey was mostly haphazard. After about an hour of wandering, they came across another wild manifestation. Amid cheers, a man lit a red smoke bomb and walked east, and the crowd followed suit.

“It’s a bit anarchic,” laments Camille Brume, 27, who was busy getting city bikes and scooters out of their parking lots and throwing them into the street. “It’s impossible to know what will happen because we ourselves don’t know what the next step is.”

One constant, however, has been jousting with the police.

As the group approached the Louvre, attendees were ambushed by phalanxes of armored riot officers who had been hiding near the colonnades of the nearby Comedie Francaise. A dozen protesters were pinned down and arrested while the rest managed to weave through traffic and escape.

Soon, the roar of a motorized police squad was heard in the distance. “The BAV!” people shouted as they rushed in, using the acronym for a police squad that protesters fear for its record of brutal arrests.

“The police are harassing us,” said Maëlle Senly, 23, who says she has joined several wild protests over the past week. Before the police motorbikes arrived, she was talking with a friend about what to do and who to call in case of an arrest.

Videos of officers beating protesters have appeared on social media in recent days, triggering a debate on police violence. On Friday, French newspaper Le Monde published excerpts from what it said was an audio recording it had authenticated in which BRAV officers are heard slapping a man they arrested this week and threatening to break the legs.

Mr. Darmanin, the Minister of the Interior, expressed his support for the police, noting that several nights of operations had put them to the test. But he said on Friday morning that 11 investigations into episodes of police misconduct had been opened in the past week.

During Thursday’s wild protest, the group gathered at Place de la Bastille in eastern Paris, a monument to the French Revolution, chanting: “We have beheaded Louis XVI. We will do it again, Macron. But the square was already largely cordoned off by police trucks with flashing blue lights.

Every few minutes, volleys of tear gas canisters rained down on protesters, sometimes in retaliation for stone-throwing at police but more often to disperse crowds. About 50 people were arrested at lightning speed by a squad of police who abruptly rushed them. They seemed unfazed and some even smiled.

“The anger is growing,” Ms. Senly said. “As long as the government does not move, it will get worse.”

nytimes Eur

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