France’s ‘yellow vests’ protests lose some steam after six weeks
The French mass movement, known as “yellow vests”, ebbed considerably on Saturday as it entered the sixth straight weekend, likely appeased by the concessions made by President Emmanuel Macron and Christmas holidays.
The huge crowd that was expected at the palace of Versailles, outside of Paris, turned out to be a small group of just several dozens of peaceful protesters.
A man, who only wanted to be identified by his first name Jules, described the concessions made by Macron as falling short of people’s expectation. “People are expecting more wage from their work to make a decent life, which is not the case,” he told China Daily, adding that life is more difficult today than before.
Several Chinese students studying in Italy were on a train from Paris to Versailles to visit the famous chateau, home to the French kings before the 1789 French Revolution. One said they were very disappointed to learn that it would be closed that day.
In Paris, the “yellow vests’ showed up also in much smaller groups of no more than several hundred each in different spots such as the Louvre, and the Montmartre. Some held signs for Macron’s resignation in the so-called “Act VI” Day of Rage protest.
Protests were also reported in other French cities such as Bordeaux, Toulouse and Marseilles. Tear gas and water cannon were used by riot police in several places to control and disperse the protesters.
A 36-year-old man died on Friday night after his car crashed into the back of a truck that had stopped near a group of protesters in the southern city of Perpignan, becoming the 10th death associated with the “yellow vest” movement, known in French as “gilet jaunes” for the high-visibility jackets that motorists are required to carry in their cars.
According to the French interior ministry, there were 24,000 demonstrators throughout the country by 2pm, compared with 33,500 on the previous Saturday.
At least 140 people have been arrested by the evening, including one of the movement’s leaders, Eric Drouet, according to French media.
A Paris prosecuting source accused Drouet of “organizing an illegal demonstration on a public road, carrying an offensive weapon, and taking part in group violence”, adding that “many others are under investigation for similar public order offenses”.
Unlike previous weeks, streets and major tourist attractions in Paris such as Louvre Museum and Eiffel Tower remained open on Saturday. The Galeries Lafayette and Printemps, the two luxury department stores, were packed with shoppers in the afternoon and into the evening with their big tour buses waiting just a block way.
The protest first erupted on November 17 over the fuel tax hike proposed by Macron aimed to cut carbon emission. It quickly evolved into an anti-government movement that calls for higher wages, better pensions and lower taxes and social justice to address to income inequality.
In a TV address early this month, Macron caved in to the protesters by scrapping the new fuel tax that is expected to take effect in January. He also promised an increase in minimum wage, tax relief on overtime work and a tax cut for many pensioners, a move that would cost the French government an estimated 10 billion euros.
French police, who were busy on past weekends due to the “yellow vest” protests, were also demanding better pay and working conditions last week. Police union Alliance called for a “black day for the police” in France on Dec 19 and vowed “Act II” and “Act III” if their concerns were not taken seriously.