Paris (CNN)It was a warm afternoon in March. David Breidenstein says he looked on as some of the more radical yellow vest protesters set fire to Le Fouquet’s, not just a restaurant but a symbol of wealth and power in France.
As the flames spread licking at the famous red awning, Breidenstein quickly turned on his feet hoping to distance himself from the blaze, fearful of getting caught up in the violence he says he wasn’t fueling. A few seconds later he stopped, lit a cigarette, and as he looked back towards the riot police he felt the full force of a golf-ball-size rubber bullet strike his left eye. “It felt like a lump of concrete. I fell to the ground and thought ‘I’ve lost my eye, it’s gone.'” David Breidenstein says one of his great regrets is that his eye injury has kept him from protesting. He will be back on the streets on Bastille Day.Violent clashes across FranceRead MoreBreidenstein is one of at least 24 people who have lost an eye since the “gilets jaunes,” or Yellow Vest, protests began in November 2018, according to Desarmons-Les, a support group for those maimed on the streets of French cities. What began as a campaign against a gas tax hike, morphed into a broader rally against President Emmanuel Macron’s government. Scenes of violent clashes erupted across France. Protesters hurled petrol bombs and bricks while the riot police used water cannons, stun grenades and tear gas as they attempted to contain the anger. In March France’s interior ministry put the number of Yellow Vests injured at 2,200 and put the number of police officers hurt in the clashes at 1,500. The ministry would not give CNN the number of people who sustained eye injuries. Macron pledges tax cuts in effort to assuage Yellow VestsBreidenstein says it took him two months to be able to open his window shutters once more. He felt better in the dark. The father of two says one of his great regrets is that his eye injury has kept him from protesting. He hasn’t taken to the streets since March 16. But on Sunday, Breidenstein plans to make the two-hour journey to Paris from his home in Troyes, in the northeast of France, to return to the place where he lost his eye — the Champs-Elysees, the same avenue where Le Fouquet just reopened its doors for the first time since the fire that gutted it.He will join the Yellow Vests as they protest for the 35th week in a row. The revolt has dwindled over the past several months with less than 100 protesters showing up in the capital each Saturday. However, the Yellow Vests are hoping once again to make their voices heard on Bastille Day — a national holiday commemorating the storming of the Bastille prison in 1789 at the start of the French Revolution. Macron will be joined by world leaders to mark the celebrations. Photos: In photos: Protests in FranceA yellow vest demonstrator faces riot police officers in Marseille, France, on Saturday, January 5, 2019.Hide Caption 1 of 39 Photos: In photos: Protests in FranceRiot police stand in tear gas in Toulouse, France, during a protest January 5.Hide Caption 2 of 39 Photos: In photos: Protests in FranceYellow vest protestors kneel in Lyon on January 5. About 50,000 people demonstrated throughout France on Saturday, according to Interior Minister Christophe Castaner.Hide Caption 3 of 39 Photos: In photos: Protests in FranceProtesters warm their hands over a burning tree in a Paris street on January 5.Hide Caption 4 of 39 Photos: In photos: Protests in FranceA firefighter tries to extinguish a burning car in a street in Paris on January 5.Hide Caption 5 of 39 Photos: In photos: Protests in FranceProtesters confront police during a “yellow vest” demonstration Saturday, December 22, in central Paris.Hide Caption 6 of 39 Photos: In photos: Protests in FranceDemonstrators rally in the Montmartre area of Paris on December 22.Hide Caption 7 of 39 Photos: In photos: Protests in FranceProtesters block a highway near the French border with Spain on December 22 in Biriatou, France.Hide Caption 8 of 39 Photos: In photos: Protests in FranceDemonstators turn out December 22 near toll booths on the A9 highway in Le Boulou, France.Hide Caption 9 of 39 Photos: In photos: Protests in FranceProtesters gather December 15 at Place de l’Opera in Paris.Hide Caption 10 of 39 Photos: In photos: Protests in FranceActivists dressed like Marianne, the symbol of the French Republic, face riot police on December 15 in Paris.Hide Caption 11 of 39 Photos: In photos: Protests in FranceDemonstrators wearing yellow vests form a human tower December 15 on the Champs-Élysées in Paris.Hide Caption 12 of 39 Photos: In photos: Protests in FranceA police water cannon sprays demonstrators on December 15 in Paris.Hide Caption 13 of 39 Photos: In photos: Protests in FranceProtesters take part in a demonstration on December 15 in Paris.Hide Caption 14 of 39 Photos: In photos: Protests in FranceDemonstrators run through tear gas during scuffles with police December 15 on the Champs-Élysées in Paris.Hide Caption 15 of 39 Photos: In photos: Protests in FrancePolice use tear gas on protesters at the Place de l’Opera in Paris on December 15.Hide Caption 16 of 39 Photos: In photos: Protests in FranceA protester waves the French national flag during a demonstration on the Champs-Élysées in Paris on December 15.Hide Caption 17 of 39 Photos: In photos: Protests in FranceFrench police apprehend a man on December 8 during a protest in Paris.Hide Caption 18 of 39 Photos: In photos: Protests in FranceProtesters wearing yellow vests gather on December 8 in front of the Eiffel Tower in Paris.Hide Caption 19 of 39 Photos: In photos: Protests in FranceDemonstrators drop flat to the ground on the Champs-Elysees avenue during a protest on Saturday, December 8, in Paris. Hide Caption 20 of 39 Photos: In photos: Protests in FranceProtesters install a barricade during clashes with police at a demonstration in Paris on December 8.Hide Caption 21 of 39 Photos: In photos: Protests in FranceProtesters gather on December 8 in Paris.Hide Caption 22 of 39 Photos: In photos: Protests in FranceA demonstrator is covered in blood after getting in injured during a protest in Paris on December 8.Hide Caption 23 of 39 Photos: In photos: Protests in FranceProtesters wearing yellow vests walk on the Champs-Elysees Avenue with the Arc de Triomphe in the background during a protest on December 8.Hide Caption 24 of 39 Photos: In photos: Protests in FranceTwo demonstrators dance in front a group as they take part on December 8 in the demonstration at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.Hide Caption 25 of 39 Photos: In photos: Protests in FranceA protester reacts during clashes with police on December 8 in Paris.Hide Caption 26 of 39 Photos: In photos: Protests in FranceFrench gendarmes apprehend a protester on December 8 in Paris.Hide Caption 27 of 39 Photos: In photos: Protests in FranceProtesters throw objects at riot police on Saturday, December 1, during a demonstration that turned violent when protestors clashed with police in Paris.Hide Caption 28 of 39 Photos: In photos: Protests in FranceAn injured woman sits on the ground as police officers spray yellow vest protesters with tear gas during a protest in Paris on December 1.Hide Caption 29 of 39 Photos: In photos: Protests in FranceA burned car is left in the street a day after the yellow vests demonstration against rising oil prices and living costs in Paris on December 1.Hide Caption 30 of 39 Photos: In photos: Protests in FranceFiremen work to extinguish a burning car on December 1.Hide Caption 31 of 39 Photos: In photos: Protests in FranceA demonstrator leaves as water cannons evacuate the Place de l’Etoile on December 1.Hide Caption 32 of 39 Photos: In photos: Protests in FranceA demonstrator watches a burning car near the Champs-Elysees avenue on December 1.Hide Caption 33 of 39 Photos: In photos: Protests in FranceRiot police officers stand in position during clashes with demonstrators on December 1.Hide Caption 34 of 39 Photos: In photos: Protests in FranceProtesters and police clash in downtown Paris on December 1 during a national demonstration.Hide Caption 35 of 39 Photos: In photos: Protests in FranceHooded demonstrators smash a car.Hide Caption 36 of 39 Photos: In photos: Protests in FranceA demonstrator throws a projectile during the December 1 protest.Hide Caption 37 of 39 Photos: In photos: Protests in FranceA demonstrator treats a wounded man during a protest where police and demonstrators clashed, injuring dozens on December 1.Hide Caption 38 of 39 Photos: In photos: Protests in FranceFrench gendarmes apprehend a protester in Paris on December 1.Hide Caption 39 of 39‘They finally got me’Jerome Rodrigues, a high-profile and now permanently scarred member of the Yellow Vest movement, is also taking part in Sunday’s demonstration. Rodrigues was live-streaming a rally in January at the Place de la Bastille when he sustained his injury. Protesters were playing cat and mouse with police while bricks and tear gas flew through the air. A dispersal grenade landed next to his left foot and a rubber bullet struck his right eye. The 39-year-old construction worker was knocked sideways. “I thought ‘S***! They got me, they finally got me!” “Sometimes I get startled by people who magically appear at my side,” says Jerome Rodrigues. “This is my life now.” After receiving 17 stitches to his eyeball and four stitches to his eyelid Rodrigues says that basic daily activities have become difficult. “I have to hold both the glass and the bottle when I’m pouring myself some water,” he laments. “I’m constantly craning my neck to see what’s happening on the right and sometimes I get startled by people who magically appear at my side. This is my life now.” Another injured protester is Olivier Fostier, who has taken to wearing dark glasses in a bid to hide the right eye he lost in a cloud of tear gas, as shrapnel tore into his socket. The former military man and police officer says the riot police used excessive force that day. He says he was a regular demonstrator, not a “casseur,” or hooligan, not a “black bloc,” a masked and hooded anarchist. Fostier says the protest had all but come to an end when tear gas and stun grenades were launched. Both the United Nations and the European Parliament have condemned the French police for the apparent use of excessive force during the yellow vest rallies. And the IGPN — the body that investigates police abuses — has launched 220 investigations into the conduct of French police officers. France’s interior minister Christophe Castaner has repeatedly defended the way in which the riot police have behaved at rallies but in June he ordered a review of police methods used to control protesters. CNN put in repeated calls and emails to the interior ministry, which speaks for the police department, asking for a response to the accusations of police abuses. The ministry referred CNN back to previous comments made by Castaner. Olivier Fostier says he was a regular demonstrator, not a hooligan or a masked and hooded anarchist. ‘Nothing is at it was’Fostier says he shies away from social gatherings and prefers going outside when it’s dark. “People stare at you. They see you either as a victim or as a trouble-maker.” The father of three says it’s not just a psychological trauma but it’s an aesthetic one too. “It’s put a strain on my relationship with my wife. Until now, my son had never seen me cry before. Nothing is at it was.” Gwendal Leroy says he only realized something terrible had happened when he felt a rush of hot blood coming from his left eye.Gwendal Leroy is unemployed and believes his eye injury will be used against him when applying for jobs. “Have I lost my eye? Have I lost my eye?” He anxiously yelled at medics and friends who came to his aid. It took him several weeks to accept his new handicap from the rubber bullet that hit him. Now he says he feels “la haine,” or hatred, towards the government. “They’ve branded me for life!” the 27-year-old says forcefully. “I don’t regret being a yellow vest but I’m ashamed at being marked by the police in this way. People recognize me now and make assumptions about me.”Leroy is unemployed and believes his eye injury will be used against him when applying for jobs. “It’s not about which job I can get, it’s about who will want me. There are bosses who are anti-yellow vest, who do you think they’ll pick? Me? Or the other guy?”All four men have filed legal action against the government claiming there was a disproportionate use of force by the police. The government is yet to respond.