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France: ‘yellow vest’ protests

France: 'yellow vest' protests

The yellow vests movement  is a protest movement that started online in May 2018 and led to demonstrations that began in France on Saturday, 17 November 2018 and rapidly spread to Wallonia, the formerly heavily industrialised southern part of Belgium. France has experienced social unrest and massive protests across the country since then. The demonstrations were initially held to protest planned hikes in fuel taxes, but have since widened into a movement against the government’s economic policies. The next day Prime Minister Edouard Philippe says the government will not back down.

Why yellow vest?

The yellow vest was chosen as a symbol, because all motorists had been required by law (since 2008) to have high-visibility vests in their vehicles when driving (as a safety measure should the driver be required to exit the vehicle on the roadside). As a result, reflective vests have become widely available, inexpensive and symbolic. By early December 2018, the symbol had become increasingly common from Europe to Iraq, as different groups made use of their high-visibility vests to draw attention to their agendas.

Causes

Motivated by rising fuel prices, the high cost of living and claims that a disproportionate burden of the government’s tax reforms were falling on the working and middle classes (especially those in rural and peri-urban areas), protesters have called for reductions in fuel taxes, the reintroduction of the solidarity tax on wealth, the raising of the minimum wage, and the resignation of the President of France, Emmanuel Macron. Seizing on the momentum from the protests, students start demonstrating over education reforms, disrupting dozens of high schools every day from December 3.

Nature of the protest

The protests are being described by observers as spontaneous, and not organised by political parties or unions. The protest did not stop and spread to next week. The next protests took place the following Saturday, November 24 followed by December 01  and December 08. Thousands of demonstrators clashed with police on the Champs-Elysees in Paris.  The next day (December 02) Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said the government will not back down. Subsequently, violence broke out in the French Indian Ocean island of La Reunion, led mainly by armed youths. The third day of protests took place on Saturday, December 1, with widespread violence erupting particularly in Paris around the Arc de Triomphe and several upscale neighbourhoods. The government estimated that some 136,000 people protested across the country.

The efforts of government to quell the movement

On his return from the G20 summit in Argentina, Macron immediately calls a crisis meeting at the Elysee Palace on December 2. Philippe meets with political party leaders on December 3. Later, “Yellow vests” representatives announced they will not go to a meeting with Philippe planned the following day – later cancelled – as some say they have received death threats. Still tensions due to blockages of roads, shopping centres and fuel depots continues

Tax Increases suspended by six months

On December 4, the government decided to address the issue of proposed hike on petrol and diesel taxes. Next day (December 5), Macron announces that all planned fuel tax hikes for 2019 will be scrapped. The prime minister announced that planned tax increases on petrol and diesel on January 1 will be suspended for six months and hikes in regulated electricity and gas prices will be frozen during the winter. However, he ruled out re-imposing a “fortune tax” on high-earners. These announcements were insufficient to quell the protests. The “yellow vests” reject the moves as insufficient and press ahead with plans for a fourth day of protests on Saturday, December 8.The government fears the new protests could lead to a new explosion of violence, anticipating participation by the far left and far right. Meanwhile Farmers say they are planning to hold demonstrations next week, to support their own demands.

The Fourth day of protests

The Fourth day of protests took place on December 8, despite announcement by the government to address petrol and diesel price issue. For the fourth day of protests on Saturday, 89,000 security force members were deployed, including 8,000 in Paris. Armoured vehicles were also mobilised in the capital. The government, as well as most opposition parties and unions, called for calm. On the eve of a demonstration, “yellow vest” representatives had advised against demonstrating in Paris where museums, monuments, big shops and many metro stations will be closed.

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