The Yellow Vest protests against a gas tax and French President Emmanuel Macron continue into 2019.
The anti-government protests in Paris turned violent once again as an estimated 10,000 “Gilets Jaunes” (as the yellow vest-wearing protesters are called) marched in the French capital for the 18th consecutive weekend of protests on Saturday, March 16, according to a Associated Press report from the Interior Ministry. In addition to smashing windows of luxury shops along the Champs-Elysées, protestors set fire to several newspaper kiosks, a bank, and the posh restaurant Fouquet’s, which is frequented by politicians.
An additional 4,500 protested elsewhere in France last weekend. That number is down from the 282,000 who protested across the country when the movement began last November.
Here’s what travelers need to know about visiting Paris and other parts of France right now.
What caused the riots?
The Yellow Vest 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. Even though Macron cancelled the tax on Wednesday, 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 8, Macron tweeted his appreciation of the 89,000 French police deployed on Saturday to help curtail the riots. On December 10, he further addressed the divided country promising to increase the minimum wage by €100 a month among other things.
“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.”
However, an Odoxa survey in February shows that President Macron’s approval ratings have rebounded to the same level (32 percent) as before the protests began in November. About 55 percent of the French population want the protests to stop, according to the same poll.
The Eiffel Tower and the Louvre, along with more than a dozen other museums and Metro stations, closed on Saturday, December 8, in anticipation of the protests but have reopened since. Several events were cancelled, including performances of the Paris Opera and French soccer league matches, due to the protests. The Arc de Triomphe reopened on December 12, after being closed for renovations when it was tagged with graffiti during the protests on December 1.
#Panthéon, @ArcDeTriomphe, #Conciergerie, #SainteChapelle, tours de @notredameparis, #ChapelleExpiatoire, #PalaisRoyal, #HôtelDeSully : tous les monuments parisiens du @leCMN seront fermés demain samedi 8 décembre. pic.twitter.com/p3yHgPgsSd— Philippe Bélaval (@PBelaval) December 7, 2018
In previous weeks, the U.S. Embassy warned people to avoid the main routes and gathering points in Paris for the Saturday protests, which include the Champs-Elysées, as well as other 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.
According to Tramuta, the areas that haven’t been affected during other 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 also chose to close and board up their windows just in case.
Throughout the rest of France, protesters also blocked traffic circles and highways in places like Marseille, Toulouse, and Bordeaux, and as well as at the French borders of Belgium and Italy causing traffic jams. If you plan to arrive in or depart from France on a Saturday in the upcoming weeks, it could be best to take public transportation to the airports.
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.
On December 26, 2018, the U.S. State Department updated the 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.
The U.S. Embassy in Paris has issued Demonstration Alerts as recently as March 14, to give people an idea of where the protests are taking place each Saturday. But in other parts of France, many of the yellow vests are protesting on the roads throughout the week, not just Saturday.
At least 135 people across France were injured (including at least 71 in Paris) during the protests on December 8. This number is down from the previous weekend when 133 people were injured in Paris alone.
Even though 192 people were arrested and 60 were injured in the capital on March 16, most of the protesters marched peacefully. One protester lost four fingers at an earlier protest on February 9, after he reportedly picked up a tear gas grenade that then exploded.
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.
Will the protests continue this weekend?
A Facebook page for the Gilets Jaunes says protests will happen again on Saturday, March 23, although the number of protesters has been decreasing overall. Most of the affected landmarks have reopened since December’s protests, and Tramuta confirmed that life in Paris carries on during all other days of the week at this point.
“It felt like a ghost town on Saturday,” Tramuta says. “But Sunday, even in the rain, people were out shopping, running the errands they couldn’t do on Saturday, seeing friends, back to business.
“It’s too soon to know what will happen this weekend and for the rest of the year,” she says. “But what’s clear is that the fractures in society won’t be repaired by these measures nor one conciliatory speech.”
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 March 18, 2019, to include current information.