France’s ‘yel­low vests’ protests lose some steam af­ter six weeks

China Daily (Latin America Weekly) - - World - By CHEN WEI­HUA in Paris chen­wei­[email protected]­nadaily.com.cn STEPHANE MAHE / REUTERS

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.

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