Europe

Macron to address nation after 'yellow vest' crisis leaves Paris reeling

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The French President has already made concessions following 'yellow vests' protests in recent weeks, but the question is where to now after the latest round of demonstrations.

French President Emmanuel Macron will address the nation on Monday, the Elysee said, following the four weeks of "yellow vest" anti-government protests, which have turned violent.

The president's office said he would address the nation at 7pm local time, but did not provide other details.

The streets of Paris were filled with the shouts 'Macron, resign' during the latest round of protests.
The streets of Paris were filled with the shouts 'Macron, resign' during the latest round of protests.
Getty Images

 

Macron, also set to meet trade unionists and business leaders Monday, is expected to announce "immediate and concrete measures" to respond to the crisis, according to Labour Minister Muriel Penicaud.

Calls mounted over the weekend for the president to bring an end to the "yellow vest" crisis, after another day of violent protests and looting.

Riot police launched volleys of tear gas canisters.
Riot police launched volleys of tear gas canisters.
EPA

Authorities said the anti-Macron riots in Paris had been less violent than a week ago, with fewer injured - but city hall said the physical damage was far worse as the protests were spread out across the capital.

Burned-out cars dotted the streets in several neighbourhoods on Sunday morning as cleaners swept up the broken glass from smashed shop windows and bus stops.

"There was much more dispersion, so many more places were impacted," Paris deputy mayor Emmanuel Gregoire told France Inter radio.

"There was much more damage yesterday than there was a week ago."

The southwestern city of Bordeaux was also badly hit by rioting during a fourth successive weekend of nationwide "yellow vest" protests.

What began as demonstrations against fuel tax hikes have ballooned into a mass movement over rising living costs and accusations that Macron, an ex-banker, only looks out for the rich.

Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said the unrest was a "catastrophe" for the French economy, with nationwide roadblocks playing havoc with the traffic and putting off tourists from visiting Paris.

Parts of the capital went on lockdown Saturday, with department stores shut to avoid looting along with museums and monuments including the Eiffel Tower.

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'Yellow Vests' again hit the streets of Paris.
'Yellow Vests' again hit the streets of Paris.

The protests have shown little sign of easing since they began on November 17.

The interior ministry said 136,000 people took part nationwide in Saturday's protests, which turned violent in several other cities including Marseille and Toulouse.

In Paris, around 10,000 "yellow vests" flocked to the Champs-Elysees and other areas.

Nationwide, more than 2,000 people were detained - over 1,000 of them in Paris as police vowed "zero tolerance" for anarchists, far-right supporters and others seeking to cause trouble.

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe had congratulated police on the security operation, which mobilised 8,000 officers and saw armoured vehicles deployed in Paris for the first time.

Police made hundreds of arrests during the latest 'yellow vests' demonstration in Paris.
Police made hundreds of arrests during the latest 'yellow vests' demonstration in Paris.
AAP

But Thibault de Montbrial, head of the CRSI security think tank, warned that strained police could not continue mounting the same kind of operation week after week.

"The state cannot mobilise such forces every Saturday, and neither can shopkeepers barricade themselves in faced with violence which is not diminishing," he tweeted.

Macron has already offered protesters a string of concessions, including scrapping further rises in fuel taxes - a major climbdown for a president who had vowed not to be swayed, like his predecessors, by mass protests.

So far he has refused to back down on another policy hated by the "yellow vests": his decision to scrap a wealth tax.

Far-right leader Marine Le Pen called for Macron to "recognise society's suffering and deliver immediate, very strong responses".

Russian propaganda accounts?

The movement has spread beyond France's borders, with around 400 arrested at a "yellow vest" event in Brussels on Saturday and peaceful demonstrations taking place in Dutch towns.

In France, authorities have also launched an investigation into social media activity from accounts allegedly drumming up support for the protests, sources told AFP.

According to Britain's Times newspaper, hundreds of online accounts linked to Russia were used to stoke the demonstrations.

Citing analysis by New Knowledge, a cybersecurity company, the Times said the accounts spread disinformation and used pictures of injured protesters from other events to enhance a narrative of brutality by French authorities.

Protests beyond France 

Officials estimated that a total 125,000 "yellow vests" turned out nationwide throughout the day, down from 136,000 last week.

In Paris, health authorities said 179 people had been admitted to hospital, mostly with minor injuries.

Among the police, 17 were hurt, Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said.

The fourth 'Yellow Vest' rally in Paris.
The fourth 'Yellow Vest' rally in Paris.
AAP

The movement has spread beyond France's borders, with around 400 arrested at a "yellow vest" event in Brussels on Saturday and peaceful demonstrations taking place in Dutch towns.

The French protests also attracted the attention of US President Donald Trump.

"Very sad day & night in Paris. Maybe it's time to end the ridiculous and extremely expensive Paris Agreement and return money back to the people in the form of lower taxes?" he tweeted.

The demonstrations are not directly linked to the 2015 Paris climate agreement, which Trump has abandoned to the dismay of Macron and other Western leaders.

People began blockading French roads on November 17 over rising fuel prices - partly due to taxes aimed at helping the country transition to a lower-carbon economy.

But the demonstrations have since swollen into a broad movement against ex-banker Macron, whom the protesters accuse of favouring the rich.

Nationwide, 89,000 police officers were on duty in towns, cities and on numerous motorways which caused havoc on France's road network, including a blockade of a border crossing with Spain.

Nearly 1,400 people were detained across France, according to Castaner.

Macron's U-turn

Macron this week gave in to some of the protesters' demands for measures to help the poor and struggling middle classes, including scrapping a planned increase in fuel taxes.

That climbdown marked a major departure for a president who had vowed, unlike predecessors, not to be swayed by mass protests.

But many of the "yellow vests" are holding out for more.

The streets of Paris were filled with the shouts 'Macron, resign' during the latest round of protests.
The streets of Paris were filled with the shouts 'Macron, resign' during the latest round of protests.
Getty Images

A popular demand is a reversal of his decision to slash taxes on France's wealthiest in a bid to boost investment and create jobs - something he has so far ruled out.

The policy, along with hikes on pensioners' taxes, cuts in housing allowances and a string of comments deemed insensitive to ordinary workers, has led critics to label Macron a "president of the rich".

Far-right leader Marine Le Pen - who is backed by some protesters from "forgotten" provincial France, but by no means all - called for Macron to "recognise society's suffering and deliver immediate, very strong responses".

Protests at dozens of schools over university reforms, and a call by farmers for demonstrations next week have added to a sense of general revolt in France.

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