Police disperse ‘yellow vest’ Paris protesters with teargas

Photo: AFP/Getty Images


Police fired teargas and used a water cannon to disperse some 8,000 protesters gathered in Paris Saturday for a second weekend of “yellow vest” protests, as public anger over rising diesel fuel prices shows no sign of dying down.

Protesters converged on the famous Champs-Elysées avenue, where they faced off against police deployed to prevent them from reaching the nearby Elysée presidential palace.

Some protesters sang the national anthem while others carried signs calling for French President Emmanuel Macron to resign.

For more than a week, protesters clad in the fluorescent yellow jackets that all motorists in France must have in their cars have blocked highways across the country with burning barricades and convoys of slow-moving trucks, obstructing access to fuel depots, shopping centres and some factories.

They are opposed to taxes Macron’s government has imposed on diesel – by far the most commonly used fuel in France – as part of stepped up efforts to fight against climate change. Alongside the tax, the government has offered incentives to buy green or electric vehicles.

Security forces are concerned that far-left and far-right extremists may infiltrate the demonstrations, escalating the crowd-control challenges. More than 36,000 people said on Facebook that they would attend a protest at the capital’s Place de la Concorde.

Some 3,000 police officers were deployed in Paris on Saturday, according to city officials. In addition to the “yellow vest” protests, a demonstration against violence against women, a football and a rugby match were all scheduled to be held the same day.

Protests spread

The unrest is a dilemma for Macron, who casts himself as a champion against climate change.

Despite calls for calm from the government, the “yellow vest” protests have spread to French territories abroad, including the Indian Ocean island of Réunion, where cars were set on fire.

The unrest has left two dead and 606 injured in mainland France, the Interior Ministry said on Thursday.

While the movement, which has no leader, began as a backlash against higher  fuel prices, it has tapped into broader frustration at the sense of a squeeze on household spending power under Macron’s 18-month-old government.

Since coming to power, Macron has seen off trade union and street demonstrations against his changes to the labour rules, and overhauled the heavily indebted state rail operator. Foreign investors have largely cheered his pro-business administration.

But political foes have dismissed him as the “president of the rich” for ending a wealth tax, and voters appear to be growing restless, with the 40-year-old president’s popularity slumped at barely 20 percent.

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