Location France France

‘Yellow vest’ protests against Macron snarl traffic across France

Thousands of people blocked roads across France Saturday in a “yellow vest” movement against high fuel prices which has mushroomed into widespread protest against stagnant spending power under President Emmanuel Macron.

Tempers flared as some drivers tried to force their way through demonstrators, and one protester was killed when a woman panicked and accidently rammed into a crowd.

An estimated 124,000 people were taking part at midday in more than 2,000 protests at roundabouts and motorway exits, the interior ministry said.

Police had detained 24 people, at times using tear gas to clear blockades, the ministry said. Forty-seven protesters were injured, three seriously.

“We’re on maximum alert,” said Interior Minister Christophe Castaner, reiterating that police would ensure no roads were completely blocked in order to ensure people’s safety.

The protesters say they are being squeezed by years of fuel tax increases that have driven prices to levels not seen since the early 2000s.

But analysts say the movement now represents more widespread frustration over stagnant personal spending power under Macron, a former investment banker who had promised economic revival.

“If I’m here today it’s because of everything, not just fuel,” said Alan, a 28-year-old IT worker at a protest outside Rennes in western France.

“When you do the math of everything you pay, they (the government) take everything,” he said of taxes. “The higher cost of fuel is the last straw.”

In Paris, several hundred protesters yelling: “Macron resign!” and singing La Marseillaise partially blocked the Champs Elysees as police impeded their path toward the nearby Elysee Palace, Macron’s official residence.

– ‘President of the rich’ –

The “yellow vests” movement, named for the high-visibility jackets worn by supporters, erupted on social media last month with calls for mass blockades of roads and highways.

Anger over fuel costs, blamed on years of tax increases imposed as part of France’s anti-pollution fight, has been simmering for months, particularly in smaller towns and rural areas where public transport is patchy.

The protests quickly coalesced into a wave of discontent with rising living costs which has found broad public support.

An Elabe poll last week found that 73 percent of respondents backed the movement, a much higher figure than in other protests since Macron was elected on a reformist platform last year.

Protesters say he is neglecting the lower and middle classes, pointing to tax cuts he has pushed through for high earners and companies.

“Macron is the president of the rich and not the poor. He needs to think about the poor as well,” said Andre, a 38-year-old with no driver’s license who nonetheless joined a blockade in Dole, eastern France.

Most of the protests took place without incident despite the anger expressed by many in interviews and on social media in recent days.

But at Pont-de-Beauvoisin in southeast France, a woman trying to get her daughter to the doctor panicked when protesters surrounded her car and started banging on the roof. She accidentally struck and killed a woman in her 60s, the interior ministry said.

Injuries were reported in other areas as some drivers confronted protesters or tried to force their way through blockades. Among the injured was a police officer in the Mediterranean city of Grasse.

The government last week announced a series of measures to try and quell the anger over fuel prices, including energy subsidies and higher bonuses towards cleaner vehicles.

In a TV interview this week Macron admitted he had “not succeeded in reconciling the French with their leaders” and that “we have probably not given them enough consideration.”

But he said he would not rescind increases on fuel tax — set to rise again in January.

“We want to work, but not for nothing,” said Joffrey Gouillet, 27, a protesters in Pont-de-Beauvoisin.

“The goal isn’t to create havoc but to get our rights back. You can’t make it to the end of the month even with two salaries.”

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