Why are the French rioting against Macron
Cars burn, smoke and tear gas envelop street fighters and thousands of police officers, people spray graffiti on the triumphal arch: Such images from Paris spread around the world over the weekend. The demos against fuel prices have turned into the worst riots France has seen in decades. How that happened and how it will continue now: an overview of the most important questions and answers.
What happened over the weekend
Tens of thousands of people in neon yellow safety vests have been protesting across France for weeks. Most of them peaceful, but in some places protests against President Emmanuel Macron's policies have turned into street battles. Masked people set dozens of cars and shops on fire and rioted with axes and metal bars in downtown Paris. Police used water cannons and tear gas against the demonstrators. Nationwide, 263 people were injured on Saturday, half of them in Paris. More than 400 of the protesters known as the "yellow vests" ("gilets jaunes") were arrested.
There were also riots in other parts of the country, for example in Marseille, Bordeaux, Tours and Saint-Étienne. At a road blockade set up by "Yellow West" near the southern French city of Arles, a fatal accident occurred on Saturday when a man hit the end of a traffic jam that had formed in front of a barricade of demonstrators. It is the third death since the protests began in mid-November.
The situation had calmed down on Sunday, but the protests continued. When emergency services workers protested their working conditions in Paris on Monday, some participants set fire to tires and blocked traffic.
What are people demonstrating against?
The trigger for the biggest protests since Macron took office is the introduction of an eco-tax on fuel. Many French people are dependent on their cars, especially in the periphery and rural areas - not least because train connections and public transport are rare there. These people already feel left behind, many are suffering from the rising cost of living, and unemployment is high. Many see the fact that Macron now wants to increase fuel as further evidence of the arrogance of an elitist politician who does not know the reality of life for his people. The protests are therefore not directed against the president's climate policy, but against its lack of an accompanying social program - and the failure of past governments to counter the growing social inequality in the country.
Who is behind the "Yellow West"?
Even if many of the protesters' motives may be similar, the "yellow vests" are primarily characterized by their heterogeneity. All ages are represented, as are all political views. There is neither a union nor a party behind it, as is usually the case with such large protest movements. The movement cannot be controlled from within, which means that escalations are easily possible, such as at the weekend, when violent groups mix with the masses.
There is no leader in the classic sense, which makes the movement dangerous for Macron. For negotiations with the government, however, the "yellow vests" have appointed an eight-member spokesman's council, which is not legitimized by an election. This includes the 26-year-old online editor Jason Herbert. He caused a scandal on Friday by canceling a meeting with Prime Minister Edouard Philippe. According to his own statements, he was protesting against Philip's refusal to have the conversation broadcast live.
Why has the anger escalated now?
Growing social inequality has long been a problem in France, as have the large differences between Paris and the countryside. In the last election campaign, the divisions in the population between rich and poor, urban and rural areas were particularly evident. Right-wing populist Marine Le Pen struggled to get votes as the representative of the "suspended" while she described Macron as a representative of the elite. Macron won the election clearly, but even then did not have many French behind him. After many unpopular reforms, they are now apparently fed up. The many structural problems in France are not Macron's fault. However, he failed to make his reforms understandable and positively noticeable in their everyday lives.
How is the government reacting?
President Macron issued a sharp warning to the rioters from the G-20 summit in Buenos Aires on Saturday. "I will never accept violence," he said. After his return, he immediately went to downtown Paris to get an idea of the destruction. A declaration by Macron on the substantive demands is still pending.
The government is now focusing on dialogue. Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire has given the prospect of tax relief in response to the protests. "The tax cuts must be accelerated," he said on Monday at a press conference in Paris. But for this to happen, public spending in the country would also have to fall. However, Le Maire did not announce a departure from the controversial tax hike on petrol and diesel. Prime Minister Philippe plans another meeting with representatives of the movement on Tuesday at Macron's instructions. The French parliament will deal with the protests in special sessions from Wednesday.
Does the president still have support in the country?
Macron's popularity has been waning for months, and many demonstrators are now even calling for his resignation. According to surveys, the majority of the French are behind the "yellow vests". That doesn't mean that the whole country wants to replace Macron, but it does show that he is currently under a lot of pressure. If he wants to bring calm back into the country, he will have to appear much more authoritative in the future and dispel the impression of an arrogant autocrat. This will be all the more important as the European Parliament will be elected in May 2019 and a defeat of his party could weaken him further. Le Pen is currently well ahead in the polls.
With material from the agencies.
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