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Archive for the ‘Protests in France’ Category

French yellow vest protesters back on the streets

February 02, 2019

PARIS (AP) — France’s yellow vest protesters are taking to the streets to keep pressure on French President Emmanuel Macron’s government, for the 12th straight weekend of demonstrations. Multiple protests are planned Saturday in Paris and other cities to denounce Macron’s economic policies, seen by critics as favoring the rich.

This week, demonstrators in the French capital are planning to pay tribute to the yellow vests injured during clashes with police. The government says around 2,000 people have been injured in protests since the movement began Nov. 17, including at least four serious eye injuries. Separately, 10 people have died in road incidents related to yellow vest actions.

France’s Council of State has ruled Friday that security forces have a right to use controversial high-velocity rubber ball launchers for crowd control.

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Day and night, yellow vest protests keep pressure on Macron

January 26, 2019

PARIS (AP) — France’s yellow vest movement kept up pressure on President Emmanuel Macron with mainly peaceful marches and scattered skirmishes Saturday, its 11th straight weekend action despite internal divisions and growing worries about protest violence.

Multiple anti-government protests took place in Paris and other cities, centered on Macron policies seen as favoring the rich. France deployed about 80,000 police officers to patrol the events and to disperse trouble.

A few cars were set ablaze in the Normandy town of Evreux. In Paris, crowds gathered at the columned headquarters of France’s lower house of parliament. Police used tear gas on demonstrators at the iconic Bastille Plaza who hurled items within reach.

Armored vehicles circled the Arc de Triomphe monument as a group of protesters weaved down the elegant Champs-Elysees, the site of recent rioting. Some yellow vest leaders want to maintain momentum by holding protests after dark as well as during the day. Two groups planned Saturday events at Place de la Republique in eastern Paris, and some protesters threatened to try to defy police and stay overnight.

Macron has sapped some support for the movement by taking an active role in recent days in a national debate in towns across France, launched to address the protesters’ concerns. Participants at the Champs-Elysees march called Macron’s national debate a “smoke screen” to distract the French from his pro-business policies. They expressed views from the far left to the far right, or a middle-ground, middle-class malaise. Many want Macron to restore France’s wealth tax and allow the public to propose national referendums on anything from pulling France out of the euro to rewriting the constitution.

“We are forgotten,” said protester Mervyn Ramsamy, a hospital employee from north of Paris lamenting recent closures of maternity wards and other medical services in already struggling areas. “We won’t give up.”

It’s unclear how long the movement can maintain its momentum. Macron scrapped the fuel tax hike that initially sparked the protests and offered widespread tax relief when the protest violence hit a peak in December.

A 52-year-old home care worker who identified herself only as Nadine says the measures aren’t enough, so she’s still protesting. “I have a salary of 1,200 euros. I don’t run out of money by the 15th of the month, I run out of money by the 6th of the month. I can no longer manage to survive. That’s why I’m here, because nothing is moving, nothing is changing,” she said on the Champs-Elysees.

One branch of the movement launched a bid this week for the European Parliament elections in May, but other protest leaders disagree with the idea. In another challenge for the yellow vest movement, rival groups calling themselves the “red scarves” plan demonstrations Sunday to condemn violence unleashed by recent protests.

Police armed with guns firing non-lethal rubber balls — which have seriously injured several — are equipped with body cameras Saturday for the first time, in an experiment to record use of the weapons, providing context and eventual evidence if needed.

In between the Saturday protests, yellow-vested crowds occupy scattered roundabouts and tollbooths around France , disrupting traffic to express a sense of neglect by the central government. The movement began Nov. 17, named after the fluorescent garments French motorists must carry in case of emergency.

Milos Krivokapic contributed.

French yellow vests protest despite Macron’s outreach

January 19, 2019

PARIS (AP) — Thousands of yellow vest protesters rallied Saturday in several French cities for a 10th consecutive weekend, despite a national debate launched this week by President Emmanuel Macron aimed at assuaging their anger.

In Paris, about 8,000 protesters started their march at the Invalides monument in Paris, home to Napoleon’s tomb, to remember the 10 people killed in protest-related traffic accidents and the hundreds injured since the movement for economic justice kicked off on Nov. 17.

French police have been criticized for using rubber projectiles that have caused several serious injuries to protesters. “It’s not normal to treat people the way we are being treated. We have injured people every Saturday,” said Juliette Rebet, a demonstrator in Paris.

Protesters marched peacefully in the French capital but clashes erupted at the end of the main demonstration. Some activists wearing masks threw projectiles and knocked down a traffic light before police charged at them, using tear gas and water cannons. Thirty people were arrested in Paris, police said.

Clashes were also reported in Bordeaux, Toulouse and the western city of Rennes. At the Invalides, protesters carrying a banner that read “Citizens in danger” marched at the front of the procession and held coffin-shaped boards in memory of those killed.

Paris deployed 5,000 police around the capital, notably around government buildings and the Champs-Elysees shopping area. About 80,000 police fanned out nationwide. The capital and much of France have endured weeks of protests over economic demands by French workers and students that at times descended into violence. The grassroots protests started two months ago over fuel taxes but became a broader revolt against economic problems.

According to the Interior Ministry, there were 27,000 protesters across France by early Saturday afternoon, down from 32,000 at the same time the week before. Macron is facing a plethora of demands ranging from the re-introduction of France’s wealth tax on the country’s richest people to the implementation of popular votes that allow citizens to propose new laws.

Macron launched his grand debate this week during meetings with mayors and local officials. The three-month-long debate involves a series of meetings organized by citizens, groups and elected officials to enable the French to express their views on the economy and democracy.

Macron has already cancelled a fuel tax hike and released other funds to help French workers. He said he is open to discussions but has warned he won’t give up on his major reforms, including the touchy issue of changing France’s pension system later this year.

“We do not believe in the grand debate,” said Jonathan Gaby, a demonstrator from the Paris suburbs. “We won’t decide, the government will decide, in the end.”

Dug in at roundabouts, yellow vest protesters keep up fight

January 11, 2019

SENLIS, France (AP) — The roundabout outside Senlis in the northern Oise region close to the busiest of France’s highways is more than just asphalt with cars and trucks circling around it. With its makeshift grocery, camp beds and community spirit, the large central island about 60 kilometers (35 miles) north of Paris has been transformed over the past two months into an encampment where dozens of yellow vest protesters gather day in, day out to organize their long-standing fight against the French government.

Like the reflective fluorescent safety vests, occupied roundabouts have become a trademark of the protest movement shaking up France that was initially triggered by the rising cost of fuel but has since morphed into a broader anti-government revolt.

Despite a call last month from French authorities to free the traffic circles, and the 10 killed in road accidents since the protests started, yellow vest activists have continued to occupy roundabouts. Before a ninth straight weekend of planned protests in Paris and across France, demonstrators in Senlis are adamant they are digging in for the long haul.

“We’ve got all we need to hold a siege,” said Nicole, a 64-year-old retiree in charge of running the grocery. Most of the people interviewed by The Associated Press this week in Senlis declined to give their full names for fear of being identified by police. At least two of them have been arrested and detained during previous demonstrations in Paris that have often turned violent.

Fearing more incidents, France authorities are preparing to deploy around 80,000 officers across the country on Saturday. Nicknamed “Mini Little Mouse” by other protesters, Nicole cooks the fresh vegetables donated by yellow vest supporters, makes coffee for all and ensures that the pasta and rice are properly stored in the wooden shelves in the makeshift building.

For her and many protesters, money is the biggest problem. “They (the government) took 30 euros from my pension, this is not normal,” she said, her voice drowned out by the noise of the truck drivers driving around the roundabout and honking in support of the protest. “I’ve worked for 41 years. I’m not robbing anyone. I’m demanding my due.”

Nicole says her income is about 800 euros a month. It’s a frosty morning across much of France but the vibes are warm on the roundabout. Nicole and her companions have set up a fire pit where they can stand around and enjoy the warmth of the flames. After hanging on through the festive season, they say they won’t leave the roundabout unless President Emmanuel Macron’s government gives in to their demands.

“Have a look, we’ve got a petanque court,” said Michel, a 69-year-old retiree, referring to the boules sports very popular in the country. “It feels good here. We call this place the yellow vest camping. Come back in July, we’ll have a swimming pool!”

On a more serious note, 29-year-old Tristan says he would be more than happy to return home. He has been involved in protests since Nov. 17 and has been banned from traveling to Paris during weekends to attend demonstrations in the French capital after he was arrested in possession of a gas mask.

Employed in the construction industry, Tristan works weekends, does frequent nights shifts and earns extra money through overtime. He said he was pleased by Macron’s decision to abolish taxes on overtime pay, but wants to continue his protest for others.

“I’m fighting for my grandmother who is struggling to make ends meet, for my sister who has three children and can’t get back to work because she is being told she will make less money than what she makes today, for my mother who is being forced to leave her apartment, and for my friend who is on the minimum wage and can’t make it,” he said.

Facing a plethora of demands ranging from the re-introduction of France’s wealth tax, called the ISF, on the country’s richest people to the implementation of popular votes that allow citizens to propose new laws, Macron has so far struggled to find a solution to the crisis.

“He’s doing nothing in the short term,” complained Claude, who is currently unemployed after being fired by a major European transport company. “In December when he spoke on TV, if he had announced the re-introduction of the ISF, it would have been a strong signal.”

Macron’s latest idea of a three-month national debate as a way for the government to hear and to respond to the movement’s central complaints is being mocked on the roundabout. “I don’t believe in this big debate,” said Michel, a 61-year-old wearing a hat with the acronym RIC, for Citizens’ Initiative Referendum, the popular vote he wants to be introduced. “Getting the RIC would be wonderful.”

Many of those protesting in Senlis said they feel neglected and abandoned by politicians. Over the years, they have voted across the political spectrum, from Marine Le Pen’s extreme right party to the far left. And every time, they have been disappointed.

“The RIC could be a solution,” Tristan said. “I don’t want Macron to leave. It would not change anything. What we want is to be listened to, not just every five years when the presidential election takes place.”

Yellow vest protesters target French media as movement ebbs

December 29, 2018

PARIS (AP) — Yellow vest protesters marched on the headquarters of leading French broadcasters Saturday, as small groups turned out in Paris and around France despite waning momentum for their movement.

Hundreds of demonstrators — some chanting “Journalists – Collaborationists!” — gathered at the central offices of television network BFM and state-run France Televisions. Some protesters hurled stones and other objects during scattered skirmishes with riot police firing tear gas.

Some members of the broad-based yellow vest movement accuse French leading news media of favoring President Emmanuel Macron’s government and big business and minimizing the protests — even though the demonstrations have been the leading news story in France since they kicked off Nov. 17.

Dozens of protesters twice tried to march on the elegant, tourist-filled Champs-Elysees, the site of repeated clashes between police and demonstrators in recent weeks. Blue police car lights flashed along the avenue glittering with red holiday decorations.

Another small group of yellow vest demonstrators gathered near the Eiffel Tower, where police officers arrested several. But by nightfall, tourists and couples were back at adjacent Trocadero plaza to enjoy spectacular views of the tower.

Both police and protesters appeared to be out in much smaller numbers than previous weekends. The holiday season and winter chill may have put a damper on Saturday’s turnout, along with a raft of concessions by Macron to calm the movement after rioting nearly reached his presidential palace earlier this month.

Despite Macron’s offers of tax relief and other aid, many people remain frustrated with his pro-business leadership and are continuing to stage roadblocks at roundabouts around the country. Peaceful gatherings were held Saturday in several cities, from Marseille on the Mediterranean to Albertville in the Alps and Rouen in Normandy. Protesters continued blocking roundabouts in several sites, tangling traffic and letting just a few drivers through at a time, on a busy weekend of holiday travel. They brandished French flags and placards with a range of demands.

New protests are expected on the Champs-Elysees on New Year’s Eve, when Paris puts on a light show that typically attracts large crowds of spectators. Paris police plan extra security for the annual event, which sometimes degenerates into violence after midnight.

The yellow vest movement was launched to express anger over fuel tax hikes hurting working people who commute by car, but grew to encompass broader anger over Macron’s economic policies. It’s named after the fluorescent protective gear French motorists must keep in their cars.

Respite in Paris; Fewer protesters take to the streets

December 22, 2018

PARIS (AP) — France’s yellow vest protesters, who have brought chaos to Paris for weeks with their economic demands, turned out in sharply reduced numbers Saturday at the start of the Christmas and New Year holidays.

Still, some violent incidents in the French capital marred the end of a largely peaceful day. The number of protesters on the French capital’s elegant Champs-Elysees Avenue was down sharply. Paris police said only 2,000 protesters took to the streets, compared to 4,000 a week before and 10,000 the prior week. Police arrested 142 people and detained 19, compared to the several hundred arrested two weeks ago when the protests turned violent.

Tensions arose at nightfall when protesters gathered on the Champs-Elysees and police fired tear gas and used water cannon to disperse some demonstrators. A video circulating on social media showed three police on motorcycles surrounded and attacked by protesters. At some point, one of the policemen appeared to pull his weapon out on charging protesters. Paris police told The Associated Press the officer pulled out it to deter the assailants but did not use his weapon.

Earlier in the day, in stark contrast to the last few weekends, tourists strolled down the avenue near the Arc de Triomphe monument, holiday shoppers were out in force and the grandest of Parisian boulevards remained open for traffic.

Protesters appeared disorganized, with scattered groups walking randomly across the capital. A few hundred protesters cordoned by police marched toward the Madeleine Church near the presidential Elysee Palace but were stopped in a small adjacent street. Tempers frayed and police with batons fired tear gas to repel a few demonstrators trying to break through a police line.

The protests, which have morphed from an outcry against a fuel tax hike to incorporate a wide array of economic concerns, are still having a knock-on effect across France. The palace of Versailles just outside Paris was shut down for the day Saturday after yellow vest protesters said they will demonstrate there. The famous chateau was home to a succession of French kings until the French Revolution in 1789.

But only a few protesters showed up in Versailles. Most gathered peacefully at the foot of the Sacre-Coeur basilica in the picturesque Paris neighborhood of Montmartre. The French capital’s other big tourist hotspots such as the Louvre museum and the Eiffel Tower, which had closed for an earlier protest this month, both remained open.

French President Emmanuel Macron appears to have taken some of the anger out of the protests by offering concessions like tax-free overtime for workers and a freeze on gas and electricity prices this winter. The measures are expected to cost an estimated 10 billion euros ($1.14 billion).

Much of France, but particularly Paris, has endured weeks of protests that at times descended into violence. Ten people have died since the start of the yellow vest movement in November, mostly in traffic accidents. French media said a man died Friday night near the southern city of Perpignan after his car slammed into a truck that had stopped near a group of protesters.

Protesters take their name from the fluorescent yellow vests that French motorists must keep in their vehicles. Outside Paris, around 200 traffic roundabouts remained occupied by protesters across the country. In southern France near the Spanish border, dozens of demonstrators blocked trucks and chanted “Macron, resign!”

In central France near the city of Saint-Etienne, protesters blocked a major road and set fires but shops remained open. In the Belgian capital of Brussels, police scuffled with some protesters during a march inspired by France’s yellow vest movement.

French govt offers 300-euro bonus to protest-weary police

December 18, 2018

PARIS (AP) — Seeking to soothe police forces demanding improved working conditions, the French government on Tuesday proposed giving 300-euro ($340) bonuses to officers deployed to the aggressive and disruptive protests that started last month.

French President Emmanuel Macron committed to the idea of protest duty pay earlier this month. The government’s offer came a day after two police unions announced work slowdowns to protest staffing and other budget issues.

It wasn’t clear if the proposed premiums would calm the growing anger in police ranks. Discussions between police union representatives and Interior Ministry officials Tuesday were suspended after three hours and set to resume Wednesday morning, according to the primary unions represented at the meeting.

“We are not for sale and we can’t be bought. It’s certainly not with this bonus that the crisis will be resolved,” Yves Lefebvre, of the Unite-SG Police FO union, said before the ministry meeting. According to government figures, the bonus will be paid to 111,000 police officers and military personal and will cost 33 million euros ($37.5 million.) The National Assembly is expected to debate it during discussions on the 2019 budget.

Instead of a bonus, police unions are asking for the payment of thousands of hours of unpaid overtime work that has accumulated over the years. The Alliance union urged the government to invest in rebuilding the country’s police forces while calling for a work slowdown Wednesday. Alliance is encouraging police forces to stay inside their stations and only to respond to emergency calls.

The unions also have complained about what they said are strained resources as officers have been sent in to clear road blockades and to control trouble-makers at street demonstrations over the past month.

The yellow vest protests, named after the fluorescent safety vests French motorists must carry, started last month over rising fuel prices. They since have morphed into a mass show of dissatisfaction involving pensioners, people without jobs and small business owners.

The UNSA union threatened to mimic yellow vests protests and to occupy roundabouts if its demands were not met.

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