National police chief Eric Morvan told France Inter radio he expected ‘a return to a level of mobilisation seen before the
Tens of thousands of demonstrators are expected to take to the streets around France, including 3,500 in Paris alone, as city police chief Michel Delpuech predicted they would be ‘more tempted by violence.’
But a planned ‘national gathering’ in the city of Bourges looked in doubt as marchers were banned amid fears of rioting and looting.
French police expect tens of thousands of yellow vests to take to the streets across Europe this weekend – including 3,500 in Paris alone – as the movement regains momentum (file image)
Last week’s protests were marked by a return of the clashes and destruction seen at the height of the protests in late November and early December.
In two particularly shocking scenes caught on video, a group of demonstrators used a forklift to ram the doors of the ministry of government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux, and a former professional boxer battered two police officers guarding a bridge over the Seine river.
‘Week after week we have observed a drift towards increasingly violent behaviour,’ Delpuech told France Inter radio, adding that symbols of state power had become the chief targets.
The ‘yellow vests’ accuse the police of fanning the flames with their liberal use of tear gas, rubber bullets and stun grenades against demonstrators.
They also point to a video showing a police captain in the southern city of Toulon beating demonstrators in support of their claim that the violence cuts both ways.
President Emmanuel Macron’s government is taking an increasingly tough line with the revolt, which began in mid-November in the rural heartland over fuel taxes and quickly ballooned into a wholesale rejection of the president.
The demonstrators accuse 41-year-old Macron and his government of being deaf to the concerns of ordinary citizens and of favouring the rich over the poor in their fiscal policies.
Some are intent on forcing Macron from office.
Police chiefs have warned the demonstrations will be more violent than previous weeks, as officials in the city of Bourges took the proactive step of banning the demonstrations (file)
On Monday, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe announced that 80,000 security force members would be deployed nationwide on Saturday.
‘Those who question our institutions will not have the last word,’ Philippe said.
He also announced plans for legislation to ban known ‘troublemakers’ from taking part in demonstrations.
Macron tried to take the heat out of the protests in December by announcing a 10-billion-euro ($11.5-billion) package of wage boosts and tax relief for low earners.
With that falling short of the mark, the president is now pinning his hopes on a two-month ‘grand national debate’ on voters’ grievances starting Tuesday – a response to the protesters’ call for ordinary citizens to have more of a say in the running of the country.
But a poll by the respected Cevipof political sciences institute released Friday showed the odds stacked against Macron.
The poll found distrust of politicians at an all-time high, with 77 percent of respondents saying they inspired ‘distrust’, ‘disgust’ or ‘boredom’.
The leader of Italy’s anti-establishment 5-Star Movement, Luigi di Maio, this week publicly backed the French protesters, offering his party’s internet platform for direct democracy — known as ‘Rousseau’ after a leading thinker of the French Enlightenment — to help the ‘yellow vests’ define a programme.
While leaderless, the ‘yellow vests’ mirror movements like Spain’s Indignados and Italy’s 5-Star, which have sought to upend Europe’s traditional political system.
‘I am more worried now about the ‘yellow vest’ protests in France (than Italy),’ Karen Ward, chief market strategist for EMEA at JP Morgan Asset Management, told an media briefing.
The ‘yellow vests’ take their name from the high-visibility jackets they wear at road barricades and on the street. Their rage stems from a squeeze on household incomes and a belief that Macron, a former investment banker regarded as close to big business, is indifferent to their hardships.
Macron will take heart from a sharp fall in public support for the protesters over the past month. He promises to use the debates to channel their anger and shape new policy via a more participatory democracy.
Macron holds ‘grand debate’ in desperate bid to end protests
President Emmanuel Macron is calling a national debate to mollify ‘yellow vest’ protesters whose nine-week uprising has set Paris ablaze and shaken his administration.
He will launch the three-month ‘grand debat’ initiative on Jan. 15. The French are already writing complaints in ‘grievance books’ opened up by mayors of 5,000 communes.
The debate will focus on four themes – taxes, green energy, institutional reform and citizenship. Discussions will be held on the internet and in town halls. But officials have already said changing the course of Macron’s reforms aimed at liberalising the economy will be off limits.
‘The debates are not an opportunity for people to offload all their frustrations, nor are we questioning what we’ve done in the past 18 months,’ government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux told BFM TV. ‘We’re not replaying the election.’
In Flagy, 100 kilometres south of Paris, the village mayor has been receiving written grievances from local ‘yellow vests’ like Agosthino Bareto. The 65-year-old garage owner is convinced the government will frame the debate to suit itself.
‘All that we’ve been saying is like dust thrown into the wind,’ Bareto said. ‘We’re not being listened to.’
Flagy’s mayor, Jacques Drouhin, is sympathetic towards such frustrations. He says he will refuse to hold a town hall debate as long as Macron plans to press on with reforms regardless.
‘That’s not what our citizens are asking for,’ Drouhin said. ‘That’s enough. It’s now down to our leaders to listen to what’s been said in the grievance books.’
Weak participation would undermine the exercise. An Elabe opinion poll on Wednesday showed only 40 percent of citizens intend to take part in the debate.
The ‘yellow vests’ are demanding the right to call referendums through mass petitions. Senior cabinet ministers have not rejected the idea – Prime Minister Edouard Philippe called citizen-initiated referendums a ‘useful tool in a democracy’ – but said their use should be limited.
More likely is an idea touted within the ruling party and government for the national debate to be followed by a referendum with several questions, rather than a thumbs up or thumbs down vote.
‘The government is aware of the risks of making any vote a vote about Macron and not the issues,’ said Antonio Barroso, deputy director of research at risk advisory firm Teneo. ‘So you solve that by asking multiple questions.’