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Posts tagged ‘Protests in France’

France: Macron ousts security chief after police protests

July 06, 2020

PARIS (AP) — French President Emmanuel Macron ousted his top security official Monday following protests over police brutality, as part of a government shakeup aimed at focusing on France’s post-pandemic economic recovery for the remaining two years of Macron’s term.

The man named as France’s new interior minister, Gerald Darmanin, is facing a preliminary investigation into a rape accusation that he firmly denies. Macron’s office said the probe was “not an obstacle” to Darmanin’s appointment but wouldn’t further comment on the ongoing investigation.

In a surprise move, Macron also named a provocative lawyer who has defended WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and suspected terrorists as head of the Justice Ministry. And a former Green Party lawmaker was appointed to lead the powerful Ministry for Ecological Transition after Macron came under criticism for lagging on promises to cut emissions.

The 42-year-old centrist leader, whose presidency has been buffeted by protests and now the virus crisis, promised that the new government would be one of “purpose and unity.” Macron tweeted that his 2017 campaign promises to modernize France and free up its businesses remain central to his agenda, but he “must adapt to the international upheavals and crises we are experiencing. A new path must be forged.”

First among the priorities that Macron listed is helping the world’s sixth-largest economy recover from the battering delivered by the coronavirus pandemic. His new lineup includes some new faces but also leans heavily on loyalists as Macron seeks to steady the country.

One key change is at the Interior Ministry, which is in charge of police. Former budget minister Gerald Darmanin was named to replace Interior Minister Christophe Castaner, who had come under fire amid widespread French protests against racial injustice and police violence spurred by the death of George Floyd in the United States.

In response, Castaner initially announced a ban on the use of chokeholds in policing, but he then backed down in the face of counter-demonstrations and pressure by police unions. He also launched an experiment with expanded Taser use.

Darmanin, 37, a member of Macron’s young guard, is a former conservative who joined Macron’s centrist party in 2017 and is seen as outspoken but effective. The rape investigation casts as a shadow over his appointment. An preliminary probe was opened in 2017 after a woman said he raped her when she sought legal help in 2009. Prosecutors ordered it dropped the following year for lack of evidence, but last month the Paris appeals court ordered it reopened. Darmanin, the highest-ranking French official accused of sexual misconduct in the #MeToo era, says the encounter was consensual, and sued the woman for slander.

The new government reflects a balance of figures from the left and right and from outside politics altogether — like Eric Dupond-Moretti, arguably France’s most famous lawyer. Among his clients have been Assange; accomplices to Mohamed Merah, who killed Jewish children, a rabbi and paratroopers in a 2012 rampage around Toulouse; and former French government ministers accused of tax fraud or sexual harassment.

Two other important changes are at the Labor Ministry, whose new chief, Elisabeth Borne, will have to deal with a pending surge in unemployment, and the Ministry for Ecological Transition, to be led by former Green Party legislator Barbara Pompili.

Macron didn’t change the finance or health ministers, posts central to helping France through the virus crisis and recession, or the foreign and defense ministers. The new government will be led by Prime Minister Jean Castex. who was appointed Friday. Macron last week ditched Edouard Philippe, who as prime minister steered France through its coronavirus lockdown and the first three years of Macron’s presidency.

Castex is a career civil servant, and his low profile suggests that Macron doesn’t want to be overshadowed should he choose to seek reelection in 2022. Macron has not yet said if he’ll run for a second term.

John Leicester in Le Pecq, France contributed.

Tensions mar Paris protest as Floyd outrage goes global

June 03, 2020

PARIS (AP) — Tear gas choked Paris streets as riot police faced off with protesters setting fires Tuesday amid growing global outrage over George Floyd’s death in the United States, racial injustice and heavy-handed police tactics around the world.

French protesters took a knee and raised their fists while firefighters struggled to extinguish multiple blazes as a largely peaceful, multiracial demonstration degenerated into scattered tensions. Police said at least 20,000 people joined the demonstration, defying a virus-related ban on protests to pay homage to Floyd and Adama Traore, a French black man who died in police custody.

Electric scooters and construction barriers went up in flames, and smoke stained a sign reading “Restaurant Open” — on the first day French cafes were allowed to open after nearly three months of virus lockdown.

Chanting “I can’t breathe,” thousands marched peacefully through Australia’s largest city, while thousands more demonstrated in the Dutch capital of The Hague and hundreds rallied in Tel Aviv. Expressions of anger erupted in multiple languages on social networks, with thousands of Swedes joining an online protest and others speaking out under the banner of #BlackOutTuesday.

Diplomatic ire percolated too, with the European Union’s top foreign policy official saying the bloc was “shocked and appalled” by Floyd’s death. Floyd died last week after a police officer pressed his knee into his neck for several minutes even after he stopped moving and pleading for air. The death set off protests that spread across America — and now, beyond.

As demonstrations escalated worldwide, solidarity with U.S. protesters increasingly mixed with local worries. “This happened in the United States, but it happens in France, it happens everywhere,” Paris protester Xavier Dintimille said. While he said police violence seems worse in the U.S., he added, “all blacks live this to a degree.”

Fears of the coronavirus remain close to the surface and were the reason cited for banning Tuesday’s protest at the main Paris courthouse, because gatherings of more than 10 people remain forbidden.

But demonstrators showed up anyway. Some said police violence worsened during virus confinement in working class suburbs with large minority populations, deepening a feeling of injustice. As the Paris demonstration wound down, police fired volley after volley of tear gas and protesters threw debris. Police were less visible than usual at the city’s frequent protests. Tensions also erupted at a related protest in the southern city of Marseille.

The demonstrations were held in honor of Traore, who died shortly after his arrest in 2016, and in solidarity with Americans demonstrating against Floyd’s death. The Traore case has become emblematic of the fight against police brutality in France. The circumstances of the death of the 24-year-old Frenchman of Malian origin are still under investigation after four years of conflicting medical reports about what happened.

The lawyer for two of the three police officers involved in the arrest, Rodolphe Bosselut, said the Floyd and Traore cases “have strictly nothing to do with each other.” Bosselut told The Associated Press that Traore’s death wasn’t linked with the conditions of his arrest but other factors, including a preexisting medical condition.

Traore’s family says he died from asphyxiation because of police tactics — and that his last words were “I can’t breathe.” “I can’t breathe” were also the final words of David Dungay, a 26-year-old Aboriginal man who died in a Sydney prison in 2015 while being restrained by five guards.

As 3,000 people marched peacefully through Sydney, many said they had been inspired by a mixture of sympathy for African Americans and to call for change in Australia’s treatment of its indigenous population, particularly involving police. The mostly Australian crowd at the authorized demonstration also included protesters from the U.S. and elsewhere.

“I’m here for my people, and for our fallen brothers and sisters around the world,” said Sydney indigenous woman Amanda Hill, 46, who attended the rally with her daughter and two nieces. “What’s happening in America shines a light on the situation here.”

Even as U.S. President Donald Trump fanned anger by threatening to send in troops on American protesters, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau refrained from directly criticizing him and said the protests should force awareness of racism everywhere.

“We all watch in horror and consternation what’s going on in the United States,” he said after pausing 21 seconds before answering. “But it is a time for us as Canadians to recognize that we, too, have our challenges, that black Canadians and racialized Canadians face discrimination as a lived reality every single day. There is systemic discrimination in Canada.”

More protests in various countries are planned later in the week, including a string of demonstrations in front of U.S. embassies on Saturday. The drama unfolding in the U.S. drew increasing diplomatic concern.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell’s remarks in Brussels were the strongest to come out of the 27-nation bloc, saying Floyd’s death was a result of an abuse of power. Borrell told reporters that “like the people of the United States, we are shocked and appalled by the death of George Floyd.” He underlined that Europeans “support the right to peaceful protest, and also we condemn violence and racism of any kind, and for sure, we call for a de-escalation of tensions.”

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said peaceful protests in the U.S. following Floyd’s death are “understandable and more than legitimate.” “I can only express my hope that the peaceful protests do not continue to lead to violence, but even more express the hope that these protests have an effect in the United States,” Maas said.

More African leaders are speaking up over the killing of Floyd. “It cannot be right that, in the 21st century, the United States, this great bastion of democracy, continues to grapple with the problem of systemic racism,” Ghana President Nana Akufo-Addo said in a statement, adding that black people the world over are shocked and distraught.

Kenyan opposition leader and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga offered a prayer for the U.S., “that there be justice and freedom for all human beings who call America their country.” Like some in Africa who have spoken out, Odinga also noted troubles at home, saying the judging of people by character instead of skin color “is a dream we in Africa, too, owe our citizens.”

Associated Press writers Rick Rycroft in Sydney, Rod McGuirk in Canberra, Australia, Lori Hinnant in Paris, Aritz Parra in Madrid, Frank Jordans in Berlin, Lorne Cook in Brussels, Peter Dejong in The Hague contributed.

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.

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.

Yellow vest protesters still block French traffic circles

December 16, 2018

PARIS (AP) — Yellow vest protesters occupied dozens of traffic roundabouts across France on Sunday even as their movement for economic justice appeared to be losing momentum on the fifth straight weekend of protests.

The road blockades remained despite a call by Interior Minister Christophe Castaner to free the roundabouts from the traffic chaos created by the protests. Eight people have died in incidents tied to the yellow vest movement, mostly from traffic accidents linked to roads blocked by protesters.

The demonstrators are demanding more measures to help France’s workers and retirees and want top officials in President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist government to resign, including Macron himself. Despite the cold weather, protesters occupying a roundabout near the southern city of Orange close to a major highway pledged to keep holding more demonstrations, including blocking fuel depots.

“Mr. Castaner, if you want us to clear roundabouts, you will need to offer your resignation. We don’t need bandits of your kind,” a protester identified as Nicolas told the BFM TV channel. Some yellow vest protesters — whose movement takes its name from the safety garb that all French motorists must carry — set up a small fire with wooden planks and held a barbecue at a roundabout near the city of Reims in the Champagne region. Some of them wore Santa hats and deployed a banner that read “Revolution 2018.”

On Saturday, yellow vest demonstrators took to the streets in cities across France, including in Paris, but in far fewer numbers than on previous weekends: 69,000 compared to 125,000 a week before. Paris police had to fire tear gas and water cannon across the Champs-Elysees and some protesters scuffled with police.

In an effort to defuse France’s social crisis, Macron has announced a series of measures aimed at improving people’s spending power. The package, which includes a 100-euro ($113) monthly increase to the minimum wage, might have played a role in deterring protests but did not help improve Macron’s popularity. According to an opinion poll published Sunday by the Le Journal du Dimanche newspaper, Macron’s approval rate dipped to 23 percent in the last month.

The yellow vests movement brings together people of all political backgrounds with a multitude of demands. Among the most popular in recent days is the demand to introduce in the French constitution a “citizens’ initiative referendum” that would allow citizens to propose new laws. This idea is supported by politicians across the political spectrum, including far-right leader Marine Le Pen and leftist Jean-Luc Melenchon.

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