Published: Sun, December 09, 2018
Money | By Wilma Wheeler

700 detained in France as thousands join 'yellow vest' protest

700 detained in France as thousands join 'yellow vest' protest

Prized Paris monuments and normally bustling shopping meccas locked down and tens of thousands of police took position around France to face protesters angry at President Emmanuel Macron and France's high taxes. A ring of steel surrounded the Elysee Palace itself as police stationed trucks and reinforced steel barriers in streets throughout the entire neighborhood.

Much of Paris looked like a ghost town, with museums, department stores closed on what should have been a festive pre-Christmas shopping day.

Authorities say the protests have been hijacked by far-right and anarchist elements bent on violence and stirring up social unrest, in a direct affront to Macron and the security forces.

Some 8,000 police were deployed, carrying out checks on people arriving at train stations and at protest hotspots such as the Champs-Elysees and Bastille monument. French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe on Tuesday postponed a proposed hike in the country's tax on gas and diesel fuel, meant to encourage more usage of electric vehicles, but it doesn't seem to have derailed the protests. On Saturday, heavily armed French police used tear gas and stun grenades against the protesters. Some protesters called for support for a borderless European Union, while others demanded Frexit, or a French exit from the bloc.

Dozens of people wearing face masks threw Molotov cocktails, torched rubbish bins and clashed with police outside schools in several cities on Thursday. "Colleagues be careful on the Champs-Elysees".

In a sign the concessions offered by the government may be starting to weaken support for the movement, two opinion polls showed a decline in popularity for the "yellow vests" on Friday.

Mr Macron, who has not spoken in public since he condemned last Saturday's disturbances while at the G20 summit in Argentina, will address the nation early next week, his office said.

The "yellow vest" protests, named after the safety jackets worn by demonstrators, began on 17 November in opposition to rising fuel taxes, but have since grown into a wider movement against Emmanuel Macron in the biggest challenge of his presidency so far. In their explanations of why they'd turned out to protest - some traveling five hours or more by bus from far corners of the country - most protesters talked about taxes, the cost of living and their dislike of Macron, whose name was a constant refrain: "Macron, where are you?" called some from a makeshift platform not far from the Arc de Triomphe. "Me, I'm not here to break things because I have four children so I am going to try to be safe for them, because they are afraid", protester Myriam Diaz told the AP. "I ask the yellow vests that want to bring about a peaceful message to not go with the violent people".

Major security measures in place ahead of fresh "yellow vest" protests which authorities fear could turn violent for a second weekend in a row. Christmas markets, national soccer matches and countless other events have been canceled or hurt by the protests.

French police mobilised their entire force Saturday to quell the expected violence, deploying armoured vehicles on the streets of the French capital.

As reporters like Samuel Laurent of Le Monde and Ryan Broderick of Buzzfeed News have explained, there is a Trumpian aspect to the unrest in France though, since "les fake news" has helped fuel the wave of protests over the past month.

Belgian police fired tear gas and water cannons at yellow-vested protesters calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Charles Michel after they tried to breach a riot barricade, as the movement that started in France made its mark Saturday in Belgium and the Netherlands.

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