November 24, 2018 23:57:21
Police have fired tear gas and used water cannons to disperse protesters in Paris who are angry over rising fuel costs and President Emmanuel Macron’s economic policies.
- French protestors are angry about the sharp rise in taxes on petrol and diesel, an initiative designed to move people to electric vehicles
- Security forces are concerned that the protests could be co-opted by fringe political extremists
- Two people have been killed and 606 have been injured
It is the second weekend of “yellow vest” protests that have caused disruption across France.
Several hundred protesters had converged on the Champs-Elysees where they faced police sent to prevent them from reaching the nearby presidential Elysee Palace.
Some protesters sang the national anthem while others carried signs with slogans saying “Macron, resignation” and “Macron, thief”.
For more than a week, protesters clad in the fluorescent yellow jackets that all motorists in France must have in their cars have blocked highways across the country with burning barricades and convoys of slow-moving trucks, obstructing access to fuel depots, shopping centres and some factories.
They are opposed to taxes Mr Macron introduced last year on diesel and petrol that are designed to encourage people to shift to more environmentally friendly transport.
Alongside the tax, the Government has offered incentives to buy green or electric vehicles.
Security forces are concerned that far-left and far-right extremists may infiltrate the demonstrations, escalating the crowd-control challenges.
About 30,000 people are expected to protest in Paris alone, said Denis Jacob, secretary-general of police union Alternative Police.
“We know there are ultra-right and ultra-left infiltrators. You can also expect gangs from the suburbs and ‘black-blocks’,” he said, referring to a militant protest force.
Interior Minister Christophe Castaner accused far-right leader Marine Le Pen of fanning the protests.
“The ultra-right is mobilised and is building barricades on the Champs-Elysees. They are progressively being neutralised and pushed back by police,” he said.
In a message on Twitter, Ms Le Pen said she had questioned why no protests were being allowed in the area.
“Today Mr Castaner is using this to target me. This is low and dishonest” she said.
Some 3,000 police officers were drafted in to work in Paris on Saturday, city hall said, with security forces having to handle a demonstration against sexual violence, a soccer match and a rugby game in the capital on the same day.
Last Saturday, when nearly 300,000 people took part in the first yellow vest demonstrations countrywide, retailers’ daily revenue fell 35 per cent, according to consumer groups.
Backlash taps into broader frustrations
The unrest is a dilemma for Mr Macron, who casts himself as a champion against climate change but has been derided as out of touch with common folk and is fighting a slump in popularity.
Despite calls for calm from the Government, the yellow vest protests have spread to French territories abroad, including the Indian Ocean island of Reunion, where cars were set on fire.
The unrest has left two dead and 606 injured in mainland France, the Interior Ministry said on Thursday.
While the movement, which has no leader, began as a backlash against higher fuel prices, it has tapped into broader frustration at the sense of a squeeze on household spending power under Mr Macron’s 18-month-old Government.
Since coming to power, Mr Macron has seen off trade union and street demonstrations against his changes to the labour rules, and overhauled the heavily indebted state rail operator. Foreign investors have largely cheered his pro-business administration.
But political foes have dismissed him as the “president of the rich” for ending a wealth tax, and voters appear to be growing restless, with the 40-year-old president’s popularity slumped at barely 20 per cent.
November 24, 2018 23:33:31