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New Year’s cheer on Champs-Elysées

5 minutes ago | Europe New Year's cheer on Champs-Elysées By Arnab Béranger – RFI Reuters

Fears that Yellow Vest unrest would mar Paris' New Year's Eve celebrations gave way to revelry, light and sound on a festive Champs-Elysées, amid tight security. But the gilets jaunes movement is not about to die out, according to loyal protesters.

For once, the crowds gathered on the Champs-Elysées were merry and cheerful, as the capital welcomed in the New Year.

Yellow Vest demonstrators on the famed avenue were described by French newspaper Liberation as “a drop of florescent yellow amid an ocean of tourists and merry-makers.”

According to police sources, around 300,000 people were present on the Champs-Elysées at midnight, including hundreds of Yellow Vest protesters.

Nearly 150,000 police prepared for disorder
On Monday, calls by Yellow Vests on social media had led authorities to expect 'disorder' in the French capital and elsewhere.

Nearly 150,000 police were deployed across the country, with 12,000 in Paris alone.

French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner denounced extreme elements of the Yellow Vest movement.

"What I see with the 'Yellow Vests' is a desire to be harmful, not to demonstrate", Castaner told French press on Monday.

Light, sound, fireworks
Fearing repeats of the violence and looting that marred Yellow Vest demonstrations in previous weeks, many shops on Paris' Champs-Elysées boarded up their windows.

But the precautions proved unnecessary, as a light and sound show was projected on the Arc de Triomphe, that just weeks ago was vandalised by rioters, followed by fireworks, filmed by thousands on their smartphones.

Apart from a lone tear-gas bomb fired by the police around 2 am to disperse a fringe group, no violence or vandalism was reported in the capital.

Yellow Vests New Year resolution
Despite their dwindling numbers, the Yellow Vests have vowed that the movement would continue in 2019.

In the southern city of Bordeaux, police used water cannon to dislodge nearly 200 protesters who had set up a roadblock.

By and large, the grass-roots movement that started two months ago in reaction to a fuel tax hike has been steadily losing momentum.

Many attribute the ebb of the Yellow Vest movement to financial measures announced by President Emmanuel Macron during the first few weeks of demonstrations.

The measures, destined for France's middle and working classes, included a rise in France's minimum wage, as well as tax cuts for pensioners.

This, some say, divided the movement, and many moderate Yellow Vests stopped demonstrating.

But gilets jaunes organisers say the lull is due to the festive season, and that the movement will gather momentum again.

'We must do better', says Macron
In a televised address on New Year's Eve, President Emmanuel Macron, whose image and popularity have taken a severe blow in recent weeks, called on the French to unite.

"We can do better. We must do better," Macron said.

However, he insisted that increased public spending, demanded by many Yellow Vests , was not the answer.

In his speech, Macron condemned 'hateful' elements that 'speak in the name of French people.

He also urged people to debate the 'truth' and not get lost in the constant chatter of social media.

French media reported that many Yellow Vests were angered by Macron's attitude, and that his New Year's address had just fanned the flames of the movement.

Opposition parties also criticised Macron's speech.

2019 will be a litmus test for Macron, who will be hoping to leave the gilets jaunes and the Benallagate scandal behind him to concentrate on his ambitious reforms package and the much-awaited European elections in May.

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