France again rocked by 'yellow vests' protests

January 07, 2019 08:54
Riot policemen run near a fire during a demonstration by the "yellow vests" movement in a street in Paris on January 5. Photo: Reuters

Thousands of "yellow vest" protesters took to the streets in several French cities on Saturday, in the fifth weekend of demonstrations against the Emmanuel Macron government.

Some 50,000 protesters marched through cities and towns across the country, including Paris, Bordeaux, Toulouse, Rennes and Marseille, Reuters reports.

In Paris, the street marches began peacefully but degenerated when some protesters threw punches at baton-wielding officers, torched electric scooters and garbage bins along the Left Bank’s upscale Boulevard Saint Germain and set cars ablaze near the Champs Elysees, the report said.

In one incident, the anti-government protesters used a forklift truck to force their way into a government ministry compound.

What began as a grassroots rebellion against diesel taxes and the high cost of living has morphed into something more perilous for Macron - an assault on his presidency and French institutions, Reuters noted.

On Sunday evening, Macron wrote on Twitter: “Once again, the Republic was attacked with extreme violence - its guardians, its representatives, its symbols.”

His administration had hardened its stance against the yellow vests after the protest movement appeared to have lost momentum over the Christmas holidays.

The government would not relent in its pursuit of reforms to reshape the economy, government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux said on Friday.

Macron’s government has been shaken by the unrest, caught off-guard when in November the yellow vests began blocking roads, occupying highway tollbooths and staging violent invasions of Paris and other cities on weekends.

Two months on, it has not found a way to soothe the yellow vests’ anger and meet their demands, which include a higher minimum wage, a more participative democracy and Macron’s resignation.

Laurent Berger, head of the reform-minded CFDT trade union, France’s largest by members, on Sunday accused Macron’s government of going it alone at a time it needed to reach out.

“We’re at an impasse. We have on the one side a violent movement ... and on the other a government which thinks it can find the answers all on its own,” Berger told a media outlet.

Labour Minister Muriel Penicaud said the prolonged unrest is hurting foreign investment.

Opposition lawmakers demanded the government put forward concrete proposals to address the yellow vests’ demands, but government ministers dismissed caving in to a minority of troublemakers.

“We need to stop being a country that listens to those who cry the loudest,” Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer told LCI news channel.

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