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Archive for the ‘Protests in France’ Category

French protesters angry over fuel taxes clash with police

November 24, 2018

PARIS (AP) — French police fired tear gas and water cannons to disperse violent demonstrators in Paris on Saturday, as thousands gathered in the capital and beyond and staged road blockades to vent anger against rising fuel taxes.

Thousands of police were deployed nationwide to contain the eighth day of deadly demonstrations that started as protests against tax but morphed into a rebuke of President Emmanuel Macron and the perceived elitism of France’s ruling class. Two people have been killed since Nov. 17 in protest-related tragedies.

Tense clashes on the Champs-Elysees on Saturday saw police face off with demonstrators who burned plywood, wielded placards reading “Death to Taxes” and upturned a large vehicle. At least eight people, including two police officers, were injured in the day of unrest across France, according to authorities. Police said that dozens of protesters were arrested or detained in Paris for “throwing projectiles,” among other acts. In the Place de la Madeleine, scooters were burned to blackened shells.

“It’s going to trigger a civil war and me, like most other citizens, we’re all ready,” said Benjamin Vrignaud, a 21-year-old protester from Chartres. “They take everything from us. They steal everything from us,” said 21-year-old Laura Cordonnier.

The famed avenue was speckled with plumes of smoke and neon — owing to the color of the vests the self-styled “yellow jacket” protesters don. French drivers are required to keep neon security vests in their vehicles.

Authorities said that 5,000 protesters flooded the Champs-Elysees at the demonstration’s peak that had dwindled by dusk. There were nearly 81,000 protesters in total nationwide. Interior Minister Christophe Castaner denounced protesters from the far-right whom he called “rebellious,” as he accused National Assembly leader Marine Le Pen of encouraging them.

But the Interior Ministry played down the scale of Saturday’s demonstrations by highlighting that up to 244,000 people took part in last Saturday’s protest. The unrest is proving a major challenge for embattled Macron, who’s suffering in the polls.

The leader, who swept to power only last year, is the focus of rage for the “yellow jacket” demonstrators who accuse the pro-business centrist of elitism and indifference to the struggles of ordinary French.

Macron has so far held strong and insisted the fuel tax rises are a necessary pain to reduce France’s dependence on fossil fuels and fund renewable energy investments — a cornerstone of his reforms of the nation. He will defend fresh plans to make the “energy transition” easier next week.

Paris deployed some 3,000 security forces on Saturday, notably around tourist-frequented areas, after an unauthorized attempt last week to march on the presidential Elysee Palace. Police officials said that a no-go zone, set up around key areas including the presidential palace and the National Assembly on the Left Bank of the Seine River, has not been breached.

But authorities are struggling because the movement has no clear leader and has attracted a motley group of people with broadly varying demands. The anger is mainly over a hike in the diesel fuel tax, which has gone up seven euro cents per liter (nearly 30 U.S. cents per gallon) and will keep climbing in coming years, according to Transport Minister Elisabeth Borne. The tax on gasoline is also to increase four euro cents. Gasoline currently costs about 1.64 euros a liter in Paris ($7.06 a gallon), slightly more than diesel.

Far left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon explained to BFMTV the historical importance of this issue in the Gallic mindset: “When tax is no longer agreed to, it’s the start of revolutions in France.”

Chris Den Hond and Patrick Hermensen contributed to this report.

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French troops deployed amid protests on Reunion island

November 22, 2018

PARIS (AP) — France is deploying soldiers to calm violence on the Indian Ocean island of Reunion after protests over fuel tax hikes degenerated into looting and rioting. Schools on the island are closed for a third day Thursday because protesters’ roadblocks prevent teachers, children and food supplies from reaching them, according to a statement from the regional administration.

Gas price protests have simmered in France and its overseas territories since Saturday. On Reunion, a verdant island cherished by tourists, the protests unleashed broader anger over poverty, which is much more widespread than on the French mainland.

French President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday night defended government efforts to boost the economy on Reunion but also ordered troops to the area, calling the violence “unacceptable.” The French military could not provide details on the deployments.

The prefecture said 123 people have been arrested on Reunion since Saturday and some 30 police officers injured. Nationwide, the gas price protests have left two people dead and hundreds injured. They are led by drivers who dub themselves the “yellow jackets” for the neon vests that all drivers are required to carry in their cars in case of car trouble.

A new wave of protests is planned for sites around the country Saturday. After tensions around an unauthorized protest attempt in Paris last week, the Interior Ministry agreed to allow a gathering on the Champ de Mars, the field stretching out beneath the Eiffel Tower.

Police are under orders to remove drivers blocking sites critical to the French economy such as oil depots and train stations. The drivers are protesting taxes that the government is hiking as part of efforts to wean France off fossil fuels. Gasoline currently costs about 1.64 euros a liter in Paris ($7.06 a gallon), slightly more than diesel.

French drivers block oil depots to protest fuel price hikes

November 19, 2018

PARIS (AP) — French drivers blocked oil depots and disrupted traffic toward the tunnel beneath the English Channel on Monday as they tried to keep up pressure on President Emmanuel Macron’s government to abandon fuel tax hikes.

Scattered road blockades have continued around France since mass protests of the tax increases left one protester dead and hundreds injured Saturday. About 20,000 protesters took part in some 350 actions Monday around France, including on a highway leading to the tunnel used by Eurostar trains to Britain, according to Interior Ministry spokesman Frederic De Lanouvelle. About 30 people were arrested overnight as police tried to clear out protesters, a security official said.

Protest representative Benjamin Cauchy said on RMC radio that drivers blocked about 10 oil depots Monday and were demanding a freeze on taxes that he says disproportionately hurt the working class. French oil industry lobby UFIP said protesters blocked some of the country’s 200 depots and slowed traffic at others, but couldn’t give nationwide figures.

Local French media also reported road blockades Monday at sites from Verdun in the northeast to Bordeaux in the southwest. The protests reflect broader frustration with Macron, whose government is sticking to the fuel tax rise as part of efforts to clean up the environment.

Protesters called for more national actions Saturday. They also said they were raising money online for the family of the protester who was struck and killed by a panicked driver. Macron himself, whose popularity has been sinking, wouldn’t comment when asked Monday about the protests. He referred to the Sunday night comments by his prime minister, Edouard Philippe, who vowed to keep the fuel tax hikes in place.

The protest movement represents drivers of various backgrounds, notably those who rely on their cars to get to work. The protesters called themselves “yellow jackets” after the safety vests French drivers are obliged to keep in their cars for emergencies.

Taxes on diesel fuel have gone up 7 euro cents (nearly 8 U.S. cents) and are to keep climbing in the coming years, Transport Minister Elisabeth Borne has said. The tax on gasoline is to increase 4 euro cents. Gasoline currently costs about 1.64 euros a liter in Paris ($7.06 a gallon), slightly more than diesel.

Scattered tax protests persist in France; injuries up to 409

November 18, 2018

PARIS (AP) — French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, standing firm against a wave of grassroots protests, said Sunday that fuel tax hikes would remain in place despite nationwide agitation. “The course we set is good and we will keep it,” Philippe said during an interview on TV station France-2, “It’s not when the wind blows that you change course.”

Nearly 300,000 protesters paralyzed traffic at more than 2,000 strategic sites around France on Saturday in a bid to force the government to lower taxes on diesel fuel and gasoline. Other issues, like buying power, melted into the main demand as the demonstrations unfolded.

A protester was struck and killed Saturday when a panicked driver facing a roadblock in the eastern Savoie region. French press reports Sunday said the driver was charged with manslaughter and released. At last count, at least 409 people had been injured — 14 seriously, Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said Sunday on RTL radio.

Holdouts refusing to end the protests continued to slow traffic Sunday. Blockades were counted at 150 scattered locations Sunday, Castaner told RTL radio. Protesters were notably in Rennes, in western France, Avignon, in the south, and Nancy, in the east, where police moved in to clear them.

The situation throughout the night was “agitated,” Castaner said, with “aggressions, fights, knife-slashing” taking place, including among the protesters. Overall, 157 people were detained for questioning – double the number reported Saturday night.

The upstart movement behind the weekend protests represents middle-class citizens and those with fewer means who rely on their cars to get to work. The protesters called themselves “yellow jackets” after the safety vests French drivers are obliged to keep in their cars for emergencies.

While it was unclear if the weekend’s momentum would continue, the movement is posing a challenge to French President Emmanuel Macron. “I hear what the French are saying. It’s very clear,” the prime minister said Sunday. “But a government that … zigzags according to the difficulties, what too many past governments have done, that won’t lead France to where it must be.”

Macron wants to close the gap between the price of diesel fuel and gasoline as part of his strategy to wean France off fossil fuels. A “carbon trajectory” calls for continued increases, particularly on diesel.

Philippe said more explaining is needed “and we will do that,” while adhering to the plan. He vowed that results would be in at the end of Macron’s mandate in 2022 – and good for the French. Taxes on diesel fuel have gone up 7 euro cents (nearly 8 U.S. cents) and are to keep climbing in the coming years, Transport Minister Elisabeth Borne has said. The tax on gasoline is to increase 4 euro cents.

Macron, whose popularity ratings are sliding regularly, has not commented. “I don’t think silence is the right answer,” said Troyes Mayor Francois Baroin, a former mainstream right minister and senator before the prime minister spoke. The Troyes prefecture was invaded and damaged by protesters on Saturday.

“It’s a very powerful message sent from the depths of France,” he said on BFMTV.

Thousands party at Paris protest to show anger at Macron

May 06, 2018

PARIS (AP) — Tens of thousands of protesters in Paris danced, picnicked and railed against President Emmanuel Macron at a “party” marking his first year in office. Police fired tear gas on troublemakers on the margins of the largely festive protest Saturday, and eight people were arrested. Authorities deployed 2,000 police to the event after violence and ransacking scarred a May Day protest in the French capital earlier this week, shocking many.

“Stop Macron!” read placards at Saturday’s rally in front of Paris’ famed Opera Garnier. Demonstrators then marched through tourist-filled neighborhoods toward the Bastille plaza in eastern Paris. Organizers of Saturday’s march, the far-left party Defiant France, planned the event around the one-year anniversary of Macron’s May 7, 2017 election. He was inaugurated a week later, and quickly launched broad changes to France’s labor rules to increase the nation’s global competitiveness.

Protesters are angry at reforms led by Macron, a centrist former investment banker, such as cutting some worker protections and increasing police powers. “This regime is a regime that’s an authoritarian regime. We are in a soft dictatorship and we have concerns about guarantees of individual freedoms and the guarantee of fundamental rights,” said protester Roselyne Gonle-Luillier, a judge.

Macron won the presidency on a wave of disillusionment at France’s traditional parties, beating far-right Marine Le Pen in a runoff. He has raised France’s international profile — but at home many voters are disgruntled and fear that he is dismantling the French way of life.

“What we want specifically is to resist, show him (Macron) our anger, show him that there are some French people who did not vote for him, do not agree with what he is trying to do,” said Sylvie Brissonneau, who will soon retire. One of Macron’s reforms is raising taxes for retirees.

The party atmosphere Saturday was a relief after the May Day violence, which saw protesters torch cars and vandalize a McDonald’s restaurant and other stores. A judicial official said Saturday that seven people have been charged in the May Day unrest. Authorities blamed more than 1,000 masked attackers from an anarchist group called the Black Blocs who disrupted a peaceful workers march.

At Saturday’s march, organizers said they were in regular contact with the police to avoid serious damage.

Angela Charlton in Paris contributed.

Arrests, injuries as French protesters challenge Macron

April 15, 2018

PARIS (AP) — French authorities say 63 people have been arrested and nine police officers injured as protests took place in two cities amid simmering anger at President Emmanuel Macron’s labor law changes.

Interior Minister Gerard Collomb denounced the violence and damage to stores and public buildings at the edges of Saturday’s protests in Nantes in western France and Montpellier in the south. Collomb called for calm as another protest is planned Sunday at Notre-Dame-des-Landes in western France.

Other protests Saturday around France were largely peaceful. Train workers were marching during on-and-off strikes over Macron’s railway labor reform plan, strikes that have disrupted traffic nationwide.

Macron is going on national television Sunday night to explain his reforms to the French economy. He says he’s making the country more competitive globally while workers fear losing job protections.

Protesters ousted from Sorbonne; French train strikes resume

April 13, 2018

PARIS (AP) — Paris riot police cleared out students seeking to occupy the Sorbonne university, and strikes shut down the Eiffel Tower and two-thirds of French trains Friday — all part of a season of simmering national discontent.

Much of the anger centers on President Emmanuel Macron, but he went on national TV on Thursday to declare that strikes and protests won’t prevent him from overhauling France’s economy. Rail workers resumed a strike Friday that is set to disrupt travel off-and-on through June. But the number of striking workers is down from previous actions, and international trains were largely maintained.

The Eiffel Tower announced that it is closed to the public Friday because of a strike by security personnel. Their demands were not immediately clear. The Sorbonne announced its iconic Left Bank site is closed Friday for security reasons after the Thursday night police operation. While about 200 students were evacuated, a few hundred others gathered outside, chanting angrily at police, though the incident ended peacefully.

The site was a nucleus of student protests 50 years ago in May 1968, when strikes and university occupations paralyzed France’s economy in a pivotal moment in modern French history. Students at campuses around France are now protesting admissions reforms that they fear threaten access to public university for all high school graduates. Macron on Thursday dismissed the student protesters as “professional agitators” and ridiculed some of their demands.

While the 1968 protesters were seeking to overturn old ways, today’s workers and students are fighting to maintain the status quo — including hard-fought worker rights that Macron says are incompatible with today’s global economy.

The 40-year-old French leader said Thursday he’s determined to push ahead with reforms to the national rail authority SNCF, to prepare it to open up to competition. Commuters squeezed into scarce trains Friday and electronic display boards showed disrupted traffic as SNCF workers kicked off a new two-day strike.

“We have to leave earlier, we arrive late at work. We have no choice. I’ll have to leave earlier this evening to catch a train,” said commuter Sandra Loretti at the Gare Saint-Lazare station in northwest Paris. “We take the car, extra journey, extra time, extra tiredness.”

Hospital staff, retirees, lawyers and magistrates are also holding protests over reforms by Macron’s government. The president will go on national television again Sunday, answering questions for two hours from BFM television and investigative website Mediapart.

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