French interior minister blames protest violence on ‘thugs’

PARIS (Reuters) – French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner blamed “thugs” and “bullies” on Sunday for the violence that hit demonstrations the previous day marking marked the first anniversary of the anti-government “yellow vest” protests.

Masked protesters vandalize the prefecture during a demonstration to mark the first anniversary of the “yellow vests” movement in Nantes, France, November 16, 2019. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe

“Yesterday, what we saw were few (legitimate) demonstrators but thugs, bullies and morons,” Castaner told Europe 1 radio when asked about the violence in Paris on Saturday.

Demonstrators torched cars and pelted police with stones and bottles and police fired tear gas and water cannon during the rallies to mark a year since the birth of the anti-government yellow vest movement.

Across France, police arrested 264 people on Saturday, including 173 in Paris, Castaner said.

Some 28,000 people demonstrated across France on Saturday, including 4,700 in Paris.

This was more than in recent weeks but less than the record 282,000 estimated for the whole country on Nov. 17, 2018.

Yellow vest activists were staging protests in France on Sunday though these were largely peaceful.

In early afternoon around 50 people, some wearing yellow vests, briefly entered the Galeries Lafayette flagship department store on Boulevard Haussman, a tourist hotspot in the centre of Paris.

The activists were quickly evacuated by staff and police.

The disruption forced the store to shut down for the rest of the day. A spokeswoman for Galeries Lafayette said the store will open as usual on Monday.

Reporting by Dominique Vidalon; Editing by Frances Kerry and Louise Heavens

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