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What Travelers Need to Know About the Ongoing Paris Riots

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Protesters from the Yellow Vests Movement have gathered in Paris’s streets every Saturday since mid-November 2018.

Photo by Alexandros Michailidis / Shutterstock

Protesters from the Yellow Vests Movement have gathered in Paris’s streets every Saturday since mid-November 2018.

The Yellow Vest protests against a gas tax and French President Emmanuel Macron continue in 2019.

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When the Yellow Vests Movement began in France in November 2018, an estimated 282,000 “Gilets Jaunes” (as the yellow vest–wearing protesters are called) took part in anti-government demonstrations across the country.

Since then, weekly Saturday protests have occurred in Paris and other major cities in France—many of which have turned violent. In March, one demonstration in Paris saw rioters smashing windows of luxury shops along the Champs-Elysées and setting fire to several newspaper kiosks, a bank, and the posh restaurant Fouquet’s (which is frequented by politicians). Earlier protests forced the temporary closure of major tourist attractions in Paris, among them the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre.

The number of people taking part in the demonstrations has dwindled since the movement first started. (According to international news network France 24, only 23,000 protesters turned out to a Saturday protest in April.) Still, the U.S. Embassy in Paris says that the Saturday demonstrations are expected to continue.

Here’s what travelers need to know about visiting Paris and other parts of France right now.

Yellow Vest protesters tagged the Arc de Triomphe at protests on December 1, 2018.
What caused the riots?

The Yellow Vests Movement—named after the fluorescent vests the protesters are wearing during their demonstrations—began in mid-November in reaction to French President Emmanuel Macron’s fuel tax hike, which was implemented to help reduce emissions and combat global warming.

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Even though Macron cancelled the tax on December 5, the protests continued and have become a more generalized reaction against the government’s overall economic policies and the high cost of living. On December 10, Macron addressed the divided country promising to increase the minimum wage by €100 a month among other things.

More recently on April 25, during Macron’s first press conference in two years as president, the politician promised hefty income tax cuts as well as pension raises for the country’s middle class. In response to the protests, he also vowed that no more schools or hospitals would be closed during his presidency.

But many continue to keep the movement alive. On Wednesday, May 1, Yellow Vest protesters were on the streets in Paris for the annual May Day marches, which are traditionally led by local union organizers. According to the BBC, France’s interior ministry said that more than 150,000 demonstrators took to the streets around the country this year, but the more volatile protests took place in the capital, where a reported crowd of up to 40,000 united.

“It won’t be enough to erase what many perceive as 18 months of disdain from the president,” says Lindsey Tramuta, a freelance writer and frequent AFAR contributor based in Paris. “The ‘emergency’ measures to ease the population’s pain are seen as insufficient gestures.”

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Which areas are affected?

The U.S. Embassy previously warned people to avoid the main routes and gathering points in Paris during the protests, as well as major landmarks, including the Place de la Concorde, Place de la Madeleine, Place de la Bastille, Place de la République, Assemblée National, and the Champs de Mars near the Eiffel Tower.

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Currently, French police ban Yellow Vest demonstrations on the Champs-Elysées Avenue, around the presidential palace in Paris, and near Notre Dame Cathedral, which was devastated by a fire on April 15. Police have used rubber bullets, water cannons, and tear gas against protesters in some cases, while Paris police prefect Michel Delpuech says that several officers encountered protesters using hammers, gardening tools, and rocks in physical confrontations with the police.

The demonstrations may cause traffic and impact transportation in and around Paris, including significant delays in travel between downtown and the major airports, Charles de Gaulle Roissy and Orly.  According to Tramuta, the areas that haven’t been affected during Saturday protests in Paris include most of Saint-Germain des Pres, the 13th, 14th, and 15th arrondissements, as well as the Belleville/Buttes Chaumont neighborhood. However, she says many businesses in those areas choose to close and board up their windows just in case.

Paris police and firefighters at the Yellow Vest protests on December 8, 2018
Throughout the rest of France, protesters also blocked traffic circles and highways in places like Marseille, Toulouse, and Bordeaux, as well as at the French borders of Belgium and Italy, causing traffic jams. While trying to leave Nice airport in early December, AFAR cofounder Joe Diaz said that protesters were blocking traffic to the airport and his Uber driver was forced to go over a sidewalk and “some gardens” to reach the arrivals area.

If you plan to arrive in or depart from France on a Saturday, it could be best to take public transportation to the airports. The U.S. Embassy in Paris issues regular Demonstration Alerts to give people an idea of where the protests are taking place.

Is the U.S. State Department warning against travel to France?

On December 26, 2018, the U.S. State Department updated its Travel Advisory to France to advise increased caution due to terrorism—unrelated to the protests—after the December 11 shooting at the Christmas market in Strasbourg, France.

As recently as April 1, 2019, the France Travel Advisory remains at a Level 2 (indicating that travelers should continue to exercise increased caution). The U.S. Embassy cites the reasons as terrorism and civil unrest.

Yellow Vest protesters confront anti-riot police in Paris on January 5, 2019.
What should you do if you’re traveling to France?

The U.S. State Department recommends anyone traveling in or near the protests in Paris or other parts of France to use their common sense and “be aware of your surroundings,” “keep a low profile and avoid crowds,” and “avoid as much as possible the areas of the demonstrations,” which are typically announced the day before they happen.

If you happen to find yourself in the area of a protest turned violent, they recommend sheltering in place and closing the windows to avoid any smoke or tear gas. If you’re traveling by car, do not park your vehicle near the demonstration areas since protesters have set cars on fire during the riots. If possible, consider relocating to another area before the protests begin if a march is scheduled near where you are staying.

Lastly, monitor local news stations for updates. The following English-language websites cover local French news.

For additional assistance, contact the U.S. Embassy in Paris at +33 (1) 43 12 22 22 or CitizenInfo@state.gov. Those traveling in the south of France can contact the U.S. Consulate General in Marseille at +33 (1) 43 12 22 22 or CitizenInfoMarseille@state.gov.

The Associated Press contributed reporting. This article originally appeared online on December 10, 2018; it was updated on May 1, 2019, to include current information.


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