Hundreds of thousands of people celebrated New Year’s Eve on Paris’ Champs-Elysees avenue in a festive and joyful atmosphere amid heavy security.
Parisians and tourists gathered on the avenue known for luxury shops and refined air to watch a 20-minute light show at the Arc de Triomphe monument and a fireworks display at the start of the new year. At midnight, revelers kissed and hugged each other.
Some people wearing yellow vests could be seen peacefully standing in the huge crowd. The yellow vest protesters, angry over taxes and what they see as President Emmanuel Macron’s pro-business policies, called on social media for a “festive event” in the French capital and other cities.
Previous demonstrations since November have led to violent clashes with police in Paris. The Arc de Triomphe has notably been tagged with anti-government graffiti that have been cleaned since then.
Macron said during a televised New Year’s address that the movement’s protests would not persuade his government to abandon its economic agenda.
Positive results from his policies “cannot be immediate,” the French leader said, pledging to make changes to France’s national unemployment insurance and pension system. He called for “recovering unity” and the “efforts of everybody” in 2019.
Macron also denounced as a “negation of France” a “heinous crowd” that has mingled with the yellow vest protesters to spread hate speech about “police forces, journalists, Jews, foreigners, homosexuals.”
The yellow vest movement is named for the fluorescent garments French motorists are required to carry for visibility during vehicle trouble or emergencies. The movement started to oppose a fuel tax increase, but expanded to encompass the cost of living and other concerns.
To prevent protest-related unrest and the potential risk of an extremist attack, Paris police set up a security perimeter in the Champs-Elysees area, with bag searches, a ban on alcohol and traffic restrictions.
France has deployed more than 147,000 members of security forces nationwide, including 12,000 in Paris.
Previous New Year’s Eves in France have seen burned cars and other disorder.