Protesters wearing yellow vests take part in a demonstration by the “yellow vests” movement in Paris, France, January 5, 2019. (Reuters)
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PARIS – French ‘yellow vest’ protesters marched through Paris and other cities on Saturday to highlight their struggle to make ends meet, a day after President Emmanuel Macron’s government hardened its stance against them.
Two months after they started blocking roads, occupying highway tollbooths and staging sometimes-violent street demonstrations in Paris, the yellow vests sought to inject new momentum into a movement that weakened over the holidays.
Shaken by the unrest, Macron’s government began the new year on the offensive, branding the remaining protesters as agitators seeking to overthrow the government. Police on Wednesday night arrested one of the movement’s prominent figures.
Early on Saturday afternoon, several thousand protesters clad in the high-visibility jackets that gave rise to the movement’s name marched peacefully from the Champs Elysees boulevard through central Paris.
Some chanted “La Marseillaise” national anthem, others waved banners reading “Macron, resign!” and “Abolish the privileges of the elite”. The Galeries Lafayette department store briefly shuttered its metal grills, but luxury boutiques and restaurants were generally open.
Driving the unrest is anger among workers and the lower-middle class over the squeeze on household incomes and a belief that Macron is deaf to citizens’ needs as he enacts reforms seen as favouring the wealthy.
“They have no right to leave us in the shit like this,” said protester Francois Cordier. “We’re fed up with having to pay out the whole time, we’ve had enough of this slavery, we should be able to live on our salaries.”
Thousands more gathered in Bordeaux in the southwest, Rouen in the north and Marseille in the southeast, though numbers appeared far below the turnout seen in early weeks of the protests.
The protests – 18 months into Macron’s tenure, and his drive to reshape the economy – have already forced concessions from the 41-year-old president.
Last month, Macron promised tax cuts for pensioners, wage rises for the poorest workers and the scrapping of planned fuel tax increases to quell the unrest at a cost to the Treasury 10 billion euros ($11.4 billion).
The measures marked the first big U-turn for a president elected 18 months earlier on a platform to break with traditional French politics and liberalize the heavily-regulated euro zone economy.
In a New Year’s Eve address, Macron vowed to press on with his reform agenda, saying: “We can’t work less, earn more, cut taxes and increase spending.”
Faced with record low popularity ratings, Macron is expected to pen a letter soon to the nation setting out his plans for the coming months. These include a nationwide debate with citizens on ecological, fiscal and institutional questions, the results of which he says will feed into the policy-making process.
“We have to give power back to the people and not a minority that serves its own interests,” said a second yellow vest protester outside the old stock market building. (Reuters)