Tens of thousands continue to demonstrate in France demanding the resignation of President Emmanuel Macron
PARIS—Tens of thousands continue to demonstrate in France demanding the resignation of President Emmanuel Macron. The protests, which started in Paris over a week ago, have been violently repressed by the police, with hundreds arrested.
Left-wing leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon called yesterday for President Macron to resign and call a general election, branding the protests sweeping the country a “revolution.” One person died after being hit by a car over the weekend and police said they made more than 300 arrests during Saturday’s protests in Paris and elsewhere.
No one was expecting the grassroots protests triggered by a rise in fuel prices—14 per cent in a year—to grow after its first day. Entirely organized through social media initially and without any input from political parties, unions, or established organizations, the protest movement began on November 19 with a day of “road blockades.” The press reported that 283,000 took part and that they brought France to a stand-still.
After that, blockades of key motorways and roundabouts expanded to oil refineries and, two days later, many gas stations had run out of fuel.
The protesters are called “gilets jaunes” (yellow vests) because of the high-visibility vests they wear. Motorists joining the movement are displaying such vests on their dashboards—about one in four cars display them.
While the far right sought to exploit the popular anger in the initial stages of the action, Saturday’s protests saw trade unions join the “yellow vests.” Mélenchon, who leads La France Insoumise, advised Macron to listen to the people and “have a quiet and peaceful exit.”
“Mr. Macron wrote a book called Revolution. It was prophetic because that’s what he managed to trigger—but not the one he believed. It is not a liberal revolution that we have before us, it is a popular revolution, a citizen revolution,” Mélenchon said.
Barricades were set up across Paris Saturday with thousands of riot police deployed as protesters blocked shopping malls, fuel depots, and factories. In a symbolic moment, demonstrators scaled and took control of the Arc de Triomphe.
Commentators have compared the unrest to the events of 1968, when a series of general strikes and occupations of universities and factories lasting almost two months came close to bringing down the De Gaulle government.
Macron has branded the protesters “thugs” and refuses to back down, insisting that his tax rises are the right course of action. He called an emergency meeting to discuss the escalating unrest and was considering imposing a state of emergency.
Mélenchon warned that the country was at a stalemate with no sign of either the government or protesters backing down.
“Nobody wants to give in, neither people in the street nor the government. Both have a legitimacy, we must admit it, so we have almost a phenomenon of double power,” he said.
Calling for Macron to stand down and call fresh elections, he said: “In this case, when you are in a democratic country, you vote. So we dissolve [the national assembly].”
Severine, 44, a demonstrator who is on sick leave and lives in Capestang, a village of 2,000 people in the south, admitted: “I have never joined any protest before. It’s extraordinary because there are no politicians or trade unions telling us what to do. This is people, just people. I feel we are in a revolution, it’s very exciting.” Several newspapers have reported that a great number of the organizers have never done this before.
The movement has adopted several tactics—blocking access and departure points at the motorway tolls, letting cars go without paying the toll, covering police speed cameras and targeting commercial centers.
“When we do the blockades, we speak to the motorists, we offer them coffee,” explains Severine. “People understand; they agree with what we do.”
Other demands have now been added to the complaints over fuel prices. They revolve around the financial burden that taxes and high prices in general are imposing on the vast majority of the population. Some also demand higher minimum wages, return of the tax on big fortunes recently abolished by Macron, along with his resignation.
The movement is a “ras-le-bol,” a “we’ve had enough” exasperation with impoverishment. The government and media have responded with scorn, accusing people of being anti-environment for opposing high taxes on fuel, even though for most people driving a car to work is not a choice.
“It can cost 200 to 300 euros ($225-350 USD) a month to go to work. With a monthly minimum wage of €1,188 ($1,350 USD), it’s just impossible.”
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Emerging from a cloud of tear gas, a rioter throws a stone toward the police.
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