Ar­rests and de­mands con­tinue but French protests lose mo­men­tum

China Daily (Latin America Weekly) - - World - By CHEN WEIHUA in Brus­sels chen­wei­[email protected]­ CHRIS­TIAN HARTMANN / REUTERS

The con­ces­sions made by French Pres­i­dent Emmanuel Macron and the warn­ing fol­low­ing a ter­ror at­tack in Stras­bourg failed to stop the “yel­low vest” pro­test­ers from demon­strat­ing for the fifth con­sec­u­tive Satur­day across the coun­try.

Com­pared with pre­vi­ous demon­stra­tions of more than 125,000 peo­ple across France, 66,000 pro­test­ers showed up on Satur­day, in­clud­ing about 3,000 in Paris. Cold weather, a gov­ern­ment warn­ing and con­ces­sions were likely rea­sons for the smaller crowd.

France de­ployed 69,000 po­lice na­tion­wide on Satur­day, in­clud­ing around 8,000 in Paris. In and near the Champs-El­y­sees in Paris, po­lice used tear gas and water can­non to dis­perse pro­test­ers. About 115 peo­ple were de­tained.

Some pro­test­ers held signs call­ing for Pres­i­dent Emmanuel Macron to step down while some oth­ers called for a ref­er­en­dum on so­cial is­sues.

Un­like the past weeks, ma­jor shops and mu­se­ums, such as the Lou­vre, Eif­fel Tower, Ga­leries Lafayette and Prin­temps, re­mained open on Satur­day.

The gov­ern­ment had called on the pro­test­ers to sus­pend the ac­tion in the wake of Tues­day night’s ter­ror at­tack on the Christ­mas mar­ket in Stras­bourg, where a gun­man went on a shoot­ing spree and killed four peo­ple.

Macron also an­nounced on Mon­day evening some ma­jor con­ces­sions to scrap a fuel tax rise, which sparked the yel­low vest protest in the first place. He also promised to raise the min­i­mum wage by 100 eu­ros a month start­ing in Jan­uary and tax cuts for pen­sion­ers. But Macron has not yielded to de­mands to re­store the wealth tax that tar­gets the rich.

Olivier Dus­sopt, France’s sec­re­tary of state to the Min­istry of Pub­lic Ac­tion and Ac­counts, told the press that the so­cial re­forms are ex­pected to cost the gov­ern­ment be­tween $8 bil­lion and $10 bil­lion.

The yel­low vests, known in French as “gilets jaunes” (a high-vis­i­bil­ity yel­low jacket that must be car­ried in ev­ery ve­hi­cle in France), started as a protest against the fuel tax hike pro­posed by Macron early this year aimed at fight­ing car­bon emis­sions. But it has since spread to broad frus­tra­tion with the gov­ern­ment over a wide range of is­sues.

The pro­test­ers are de­mand­ing higher salaries, lower taxes, bet­ter pen­sions and eas­ier univer­sity en­try re­quire­ments.

A study by the French eco­nomic ob­ser­va­tory OFCE shows that dis­pos­able in­come in the coun­try dropped by 440 eu­ros on av­er­age for each house­hold be­tween 2008 and 2016.

The move­ment has gained wide­spread sup­port in the French so­ci­ety. On Satur­day, large-scale yel­low vest protests took place in the cities of Bordeaux, Nantes and Calais.

The move­ment has also spread to other coun­tries, where peo­ple at the bot­tom of the so­ci­ety are in­creas­ingly frus­trated with the so­cial in­equal­ity and the dif­fi­culty to make ends meet amid ac­cu­sa­tions that taxes are too high.

Fol­low­ing sim­i­lar protests in Brus­sels, the Bel­gian gov­ern­ment also an­nounced that fuel prices would not be in­dex-linked from next year.

One Ikea lorry driver in Brus­sels told China Daily on Fri­day that life is dif­fi­cult be­cause he works long hours and ev­ery­thing is get­ting so much more ex­pen­sive now.

“It’s im­pos­si­ble (fi­nan­cially) to live alone,” said the man who did not want to be named.

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