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Paris police use tear gas and water cannon on anti-Macron tax protesters

Tens of thousands are expected on the streets of Paris today to protest against rising fuel prices and tax measures.

France Gas Price Protests Demonstrators face riot police during clashes on the Champs-Elysees avenue. Source: Kamil Zihnioglu

FRENCH POLICE FIRED tear gas and a water cannon on protesters who tried to break through a police cordon on the Champs-Elysees, an AFP journalist said.

Several thousand demonstrators had gathered on the avenue as part of protests which began last Saturday against an increase in diesel tax.

Since then, demonstrators have blocked French roads dressed in high-visibility jackets, earning them the nickname “yellow vests”.

It’s thought that tens of thousands will gather for the protest today: some 3,000 police were deployed in the capital but authorities face difficulties in predicting where crowds will gather to support what is still a largely spontaneous movement led by angry voters in rural and small-town France.

France Gas Price Protests Source: AP/PA Images

Nearly 300,000 people blocked motorways, roundabouts, businesses, and fuel depots last Saturday and smaller protests have continued this week, with an estimated 5,000 people wearing the fluorescent yellow jackets taking part yesterday.

The demonstrations were sparked by an increase in diesel tax, justified as an anti-pollution levy by the government, but have since morphed into a broad opposition front to centrist Macron.

Reception for France's mayors at the Elysee Palace - Paris French President Emmanuel Macron. Source: Pool/ABACA

“I hope there will be a veritable yellow tide,” one of the leaders of the movement, right-wing political figure Frank Buhler, said this week as he urged supporters to descend on Paris.

But with some protesters baulking at the cost of travelling to the capital, it was unclear whether the organisers would achieve their aim of causing gridlock in the City of Light.

Several hundred protesters converged early Saturday on the Place de l’Etoile at the top of the Champs-Elysee avenue, shouting “Macron resign”.

France Gas Price Protests Police operates a water cannon during clashes with demonstrators. Source: Kamil Zihnioglu

More than 35,000 people vowed on Facebook to rally in the Place de la Concorde in central Paris, a gathering banned by authorities due to its proximity to the presidential palace.

Protesters ‘demonised’

Police had cordoned off a zone that included the Place de la Concorde, the National Assembly and a section of the Champs-Elysee.

“In this zone, no demonstration, no gathering, no march linked to the ‘yellow vests’ can take place,” said Paris police chief Michel Delpuech.

He said mobile police units backed by helicopters are ready to intervene in case of violence or attempts to block the Paris ring road.

Paris authorities have authorised a demonstration in a park next to the Eiffel Tower.

“The government has done everything to demonise the movement that will take place in Paris,” said Clement Jonie as he joined protesters gathering in the west of Paris today.

“We hear the deputies from the (governing) LREM say ‘we will hold the course’ but the movement is on its way, it is not ready to stop”, said the 47-year-old logistician, who had traveled in from the suburbs.

Two people have died and over 750 people, including 136 police officers, were injured during the week of demonstrations that shone a light on frustration over stagnant spending power and the rollback in public services in some areas of France.

Yesterday evening a man wearing an explosive device and demanding protesters be allowed to meet with the French president turned himself in to police in Angers in western France.

“He demanded that the yellow vests be received at the Elysee” presidential palace, local prosecutor Yves Gambert told AFP.

Local official Bernard Gonzalez said: “There was a real risk, real danger, he had an explosive charge around his neck… This was not fake.”

‘Struggling and fed-up’

France Gas Price Protests Source: Kamil Zihnioglu

Former investment banker Macron was elected on a pledge to put more money in workers’ pockets but the effects of his reforms on purchasing power – persistently shown as one of the biggest concerns of the French – have been limited so far.

The poor and low-paid are particularly incensed at his decision to hike anti-pollution taxes on diesel and petrol, while scrapping a wealth tax on the rich.

Opposition parties on the hard left and right have cheered on the protesters, whose revolt was described by 77% of respondents in an Odoxa poll for Le Figaro newspaper as “justified”.

“It’s the cry of a France that is struggling and fed-up,” Jordan Bardella, spokesman for the far-right National Rally (former National Front) said.

Macron, who is under pressure to tackle pollution ahead of European Parliament elections in which the environment is expected to feature prominently, has refused to back down on taxing polluters.

But with his ratings languishing at record lows of under 30%, he has sought to present a more empathetic side.

Next week, he will unveil a new energy plan that will aim to make the shift towards cleaner fuel and power more “acceptable”.

“We have heard the message of citizens,” one of his aides said on Thursday.

Revolts against taxes have been a feature of French public life for centuries – citizens pay some of the highest in Europe as a percentage of GDP – while fuel price protests are a common occurrence.

 © – AFP 2018  

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