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Yellow Vest protesters keep up the pressure on Macron government

By Sheetal Sukhija, The Iran News
17 Dec 2018, 09:47 GMT+10

PARIS, France - Paying no heed to calls by the French government, which urged the Yellow Vest protesters to refrain from staging large protests in the aftermath of the shooting at Strasbourg earlier this week - thousands of anti-government protesters took to the streets on Saturday.

For the fifth consecutive Saturday, thousands of people took to the streets of several cities across France, as part of the grassroots movement called 'Yellow Vests' (gilets jaunes).

Last month, tens of thousands of citizens staged large rallies in several parts of the country to protest the fuel price hikes announced by the French government led by the young president Emmanuel Macron.

However, right from the first week, the Yellow Vest protests witnessed intense violence, with riots breaking out in some large cities - including the capital, Paris.

Anger over the rising fuel taxes announced as part of Macron's campaign for cleaner cars and fuel, soon grew into an expression of anger over the high cost of living in the country due to the President's highly criticized policies.

In the four weeks since the protests first started, cases of rioting and violence have increased consistently, with demonstrators blocking roads, motorways and fuel depots, torching vehicles, smashing windows, looting businesses, defacing historic structures and engaging in violent clashes with the police.

Won't stop protesting

On Saturday, protesters braved freezing weather to return to the streets for a fifth consecutive Saturday and while the size of the demonstrations in Paris and other cities was considerably smaller that before - instances of violence still continued.

In Paris, security officials said they were forced to fire teargas to disperse crowds that gathered in the Champs Elysees and the Place de l'Opera.

Unlike the previous week, on Saturday, around 66,000 protesters took to the streets.

Further, officials said that several stores, boutiques and businesses choose to remain operational for Christmas shoppers.

According to authorities in Paris, over 8,000 police officers were on duty in the capital, while there were only 2,200 protesters on Saturday.

By the end of the day, the police had arrested 168 protesters and said they were forced to use tear gas in certain areas, especially on the Champs-Elysees and adjacent streets.

Through the day, incidents of violence were also reported in Nantes, western France, and the southern city of Bordeaux.

Meanwhile, authorities said that a total of 69,000 security forces were mobilized across France on Saturday.

The French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner urged protesters to halt their blockades across the country since the protests have disrupted traffic and businesses.

Castaner also announced on Saturday that so far, in the five weeks of protest, eight people had died.

'A month of rage'

On November 17, when the protests started, the French Interior Ministry said that a total of 282,000 protesters participated in rallies across the country.

The first weekend of protests across France led to a total of 73 arrests, while clashes between protesters and the police in certain cities left 409 people injured.

One person was killed at the time.

However, on November 24, the number of protesters reduced dramatically, with 166,000 people staging rallies, targeting the government's economic policies.

During the second weekend, 307 protesters were detained by the French police.

Clashes between demonstrators and the police left 84 people injured.

The following week, 136,000 protesters took to the streets, with the number of people being arrested rising to more than double the number from the previous week.

The December 1 protests also led to one death, with clashes leaving 263 people injured, including dozens of members of the country's security forces..

The third week of protests alarmed not just the country, but the rest of the world too, since riots that broke out in Paris over that weekend, were said to be the worst unrest witnessed in the city's central region in five decades.

The Paris Police chief Michel Delpuech said that violence over the December 1 weekend was "the worst riots witnessed in Paris since 1968."

The alarming levels of anger among citizens and the riots that followed, forced the French government to suspend the planned increases to fuel taxes for at least six months.

The decision was one of the biggest backflips by Macron's administration in his 18 month governance and the President told enraged protesters that he would not only scrap the unpopular fuel tax rise but would provide tax cuts for pensioners and an extra 100 euros a month for minimum wage earners.

Despite getting the government to adjust its economic course by protesting continuously for three weeks, the Yellow Vests were far from impressed by Macron's announcement.

Calling the French government's response "inadequate," protesters took to the streets days later, on December 8 - to stage what they called 'Act IV' protests.

The fourth weekend of protests saw an estimated 136,000 protesters participating in the anti-government demonstrations across the country.

Clashes began soon after the protests began early in the morning, with 118 people suffering injuries in the violence by the end of the day.

Anticipating the violence, the government too had tighter security, with the fourth Saturday protest ending with 1,220 protesters being arrested by the Police.

Over the four weekends, riot police have fired tear gas and water cannons to disperse protesters, and several law enforcement officers have suffered attacks, with unruly protesters hurling stones, rocks and even barricades on the cops during the demonstrations.

Further, protesters across the country have consistently targeted Macron, calling on the President to resign over his policies that they claim have abandoned "the little people."

'President for the rich'

Dubbed the president for the rich" by his political opponents, Macron's economic policies have led to his popularity hitting new lows.

Over the last 19 months, the young French President has attempted to reboot the country's economy, but his loosening of labour laws and an overhaul of the state rail operator SNCF have angered powerful trade unions that have staged massive street demonstrations.

He has also suffered several backlash from the public and his political opponents for measures such as ending the wealth tax, hiking taxes on fuel and tobacco and increasing a social welfare levy.

The Yellow Vest movement started after Macron announced that starting January 1, 2019, the government would increase the price of diesel by 6.5 cents, while petrol prices would be hiked by 2.9 cents.

Over the past 12 months, the price of diesel - the most commonly used fuel in French cars - has risen by around 23 percent.

Currently, the price of diesel stands at an average of 1.51 euros per litre - which is the highest that the price has reached since the early 2000s.

Sinking popularity

Last week, a poll conducted by Ipsos showed that just 20 percent of respondents were happy with Macron's presidency - which his popularity in the country dropping six points, to hits its lowest ever level.

However, on Sunday, a new poll by the Ifop group showed that over the last month, the French President's approval had slipped another two points, to 23 percent.

The Ifop poll, which was published in Journal du Dimanche newspaper, revealed that the proportion of respondents, who declared themselves "very dissatisfied" by his leadership jumped by six points to 45 percent.

During the course of 2018, Macrons popularity has dropped by 27 points.

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