Why the ‘Yellow Vests’ chose Versailles as their main venue for protests

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French “yellow vests” are gearing up for a sixth Saturday of nationwide demonstrations, but numbers on the streets are falling fast as the police clear protest camps in the run-up to the Christmas holidays.

The protesters appeared split Friday on whether to stage another large rally in Paris, or in the nearby town of Versailles, once home to king Louis XVI who lost his head to the revolutionary guillotine.

Protesters said they had chosen the palace to demonstrate the similarities between Louis XVI and President Macron. One activist said "Macron is no longer president after he became king."

Fearing possible unrest, authorities said they were closing the Palace of Versailles and its gardens, a top tourist venue, on Saturday.

They have also urged shopkeepers in Paris, many of whom remained shuttered over the past two weekends to guard against looting and violence, to exercise caution.

On Friday evening, the French Senate approved a raft of measures to help the working poor and pensioners, just hours after they had been adopted by the lower house of parliament. The measures should come into force early in 2019.

Earlier Friday Prime Minister Edouard Philippe visited the Haute-Vienne region of central France to discuss grievances of disgruntled rural-dwellers with local mayors.

Philippe was greeted by demonstrators shouting “Macron resign”, a reference to the president.

Elsewhere, some “gilets jaunes” sought to keep pressure on the government to further boost spending power and give citizens more of a say in lawmaking by staging sporadic protests.

In Pfastatt, eastern France, 14 demonstrators trying to block access to a factory supplying parts to PSA Peugeot Citroen, Europe's second-biggest carmaker, were arrested by police.

In the southwestern city of Toulouse, some 30 protesters held a rally lampooning President Emmanuel Macron on his 41st birthday.

“We haven't brought him any presents because he hasn't given us any,” said one protester.

The number of protesters has however fallen significantly since last week, when Macron, a pro-business centrist, gave into some of their demands.

The interior ministry estimated the numbers taking part in various protests on Thursday at under 4,000, the lowest since demonstrations began on November 17, with 282,000 taking part on the first Saturday.

The number of traffic roundabouts occupied by protesters in yellow high-visibility vests over the past five weeks has also markedly dropped.

Some 300 have been cleared by police since mid-December, with 200 still occupied, the interior ministry said Friday.

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