Dec. 3, 2018 – PARIS — As part of his environmental policy strategy, French President Emmanuel Macron announced a green tax on fuel last month to go into effect Jan. 1. The move set off nearly a month of protests around France. The French Interior Ministry estimates 136,000 protesters turned out across the country over the weekend, in addition to 280,000 in previous weeks.
Nicknamed for the safety vests worn by protesters, known as gilets jaunes, the yellow vest movement has sparked a political crisis for the French government. The protests started in the French provinces but spread to Paris, where demonstrations turned into riots over the weekend and scenes of violent civil unrest played out along the city’s famous Avenue des Champs Élysées.
Originally, the yellow vest protesters were people from rural areas who have to drive long distances as part of their daily life. They said they couldn’t afford the hike in fuel prices. Protests appeared in pockets around France to denounce Macron’s green tax and then quickly grew into a larger movement that includes members of the working and middle classes who are expressing their frustration about slipping standards of living. They say their incomes are too high to qualify for social welfare benefits but too low to make ends meet. The movement has no official leadership and was organized initially through social media groups.
France, on their way to becoming a 3rd world country chants. WE WANT TRUMP🤣 pic.twitter.com/koLOqLEEMb
— jack white (@HorseRacingCOO) December 3, 2018
The protesters focus on Macron as the source of their problems. Along with his early reforms to loosen labor laws and slash France’s famous wealth tax, the fuel tax reinforces protesters’ image of him as a president of the rich.
Most yellow vests at blockades around France are peaceful protesters. Violent protests erupted over the weekend in Paris, where rioters defaced the Arc de Triomphe and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, looted shops, vandalized buildings and even attacked police. French authorities note that most of the violence and vandalism were incited by anarchists known as “casseurs” — rioters, thugs from the ultraleft and ultraright. Paris police held 380 people in custody after Saturday’s riots. The city estimates total damages at $3.4 million.
What do the protesters want?
Their initial demand was to repeal the green tax on diesel. Now, others want the current minimum wage (about $1,350 per month after taxes) to be raised. There have also been calls to dissolve the National Assembly and hold new elections. There have even been chants of “Macron resign!”
Why do they wear yellow vests?
All French motorists are required by law to carry yellow roadside safety vests in their vehicles. Protesting drivers donned their obligatory yellow vests and created roadblocks around France. Now anyone joining the protests wears the yellow vest, regardless of whether they are motorists.
The French government is considering “all options” to control protests against rising fuel prices that have turned violent in Paris over the last three weeks, a spokesman said Sunday.
Speaking on France’s Europe 1 radio, spokesman Benjamin Griveaux said the government is thinking about steps to prevent “serious outbursts of violence,” including introducing a state of emergency.
More than 400 people were arrested and 133 injured in Paris on Saturday in clashes between police and protesters with the “gilets jaune” or “yellow vest” movement, who are protesting rising gas prices and taxes on polluting forms of transport.
An estimated 36,000 people demonstrated in Saturday’s protests across the country Saturday, marking the third consecutive week of such demonstrations, according to the French Interior Ministry. About 53,000 participated last week and about 113,000 the week before.
Griveaux said that between 1,000 and 1,500 people joined Saturday’s demonstrations “only to fight with the police, to break and loot.” He added that those protesters “have nothing to do with the yellow vests.”
Footage shared by French police on Saturday showed a few demonstrators striking a police vehicle and smashing its windshield. Other videos captured burning cars and police firing tear gas to disperse protesters.
French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner had mentioned a state of emergency, Griveaux said.
French President Emmanuel Macron held an emergency meeting with top officials on Sunday just hours after returning from the G20 summit in Argentina. In a statement, Macron paid tribute to law enforcement and rescue teams who “showed unrelenting bravery throughout the day and evening.”
Macron also “stressed the importance of judicial follow-up so that none of the acts committed remains unpunished,” the statement added..
Many protesters are angry with Macron for extending the environmental policies that were first implemented by former President François Hollande.
The violent protests and vandalism in Paris have “absolutely nothing to do with the peaceful demonstrations of a legitimate unhappiness or discontent,” Macron said on Saturday at a news conference in Buenos Aires, where he was attending the G20 summit.
“No cause justifies that security forces are attacked, shops pillaged, public or private buildings set on fire, pedestrians or journalists threatened or that the Arc de Triomphe is sullied,” Macron said.
Those responsible will be identified and taken to court, he added.
Macron and his top staff met on Monday to discuss ways to quell the unrest. France’s prime minister will meet with “yellow vest” leaders on Tuesday.
In 2017 On April 20, just days before the first round of the French election, former president Obama caused a diplomatic stir when Reuters reported that he had spoken on the phone with French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron – the market-friendly candidate preferred by Europe’s establishment. Quick to avoid the perception of yet another foreign interference (who can forget Obama’s strong condemnation of the Brexit campaign last summer), in a statement from Kevin Lewis, spokesperson to President Barack Obama, he said that “an endorsement was not the purpose of the call, as President Obama is not making any formal endorsement in advance of the run-off election on Sunday.”