SHUBHDA CHAUDHARY | 10 DECEMBER, 2018
French president to address the nation tonight
As more than 125,000 or ‘Yellow Vest’ protestors or gilets jaunes demonstrate against French President Emmanuel Macron in France, the government has deployed 90,000 police officers to control the situation. Around 1,220 people have been taken into custody, the Interior Ministry reported.
The use of tear gas against the demonstrators led to a political uproar. Macron’s approval rating has fallen to 23%, a reflection of his presidency the past 18 months, as demonstrators name him ‘Louis 16’ and ‘President of the Rich’. Protest related violence has been concentrated in Paris, though the entire French countryside has witnessed shutdowns.
For insight into the yellow vest demonstrations rocking France, we interviewed Alexander Seale, a freelance correspondent for BBC Afrique and London correspondent for Radio France International.
What caused the Yellow Vest protests in France?
The Yellow Vests began as a movement among a few people in lower middle class rural France, protesting a new eco-tax on fuel they felt would push their budgets over the edge. One has to note that there is no leader or unions behind these protests. They started on social media.
This Saturday, December 8 is the fourth weekend of violent protests, named after the yellow high-visibility jackets French motorists must carry in their vehicles.
Last Saturday was also extremely violent. As we know the Arc de Triomphe was tagged, many shops were looted and cars were burned. This wasn’t only in Paris. It happened and is happening in almost every region in France.
Is it along the same lines as the May 1968 protests?
The other day, Left-wing daily newspaper Libération said: “Paris has undoubtedly experienced the most violent rallies since the events of May ‘68.” The paper notes the “heterogeneity” of the protesters - from nationalists and far-right student groups to hard-left militants and anarchists.
Why are demonstrators demanding the resignation of Emmanuel Marcon?
You are right to say protestors have been asking for President Macron to resign but I don’t think he will. Macron’s first step when he was elected in May 2017 was to slash the wealth tax for the mega-rich, while cutting money from poor people’s housing benefits.
Lots of protestors think that is unfair. France is rising up and the Yellow Vests think Macron is staying silent. They also think he is the ‘president for the rich’.
Are anarchists and far-right protestors infiltrating these protests?
Yes, most of the protestors who are the ‘casseurs’ or violent demonstrators are either anarchists or from the Far Right. Some Yellow Vests demonstrators have come out against the violence.
Does France have an alternative to Emmanuel Macron?
France does not have an alternative to Emmanuel Macron. As you know his Party La République en Marche! (The Republic on the Move) swept the elections to the French National Assembly.
Macron was elected against Far-Right candidate Marine Le Pen. There is no one else who can replace him. Macron said he wanted to unite France. It takes time and he can’t do it in one day. I know there is anger but he is trying his best with important reforms.
Will freezing gas and electricity prices for 2019 resolve the crisis?
It is too early to say if freezing gas and electricity will calm things down. As you know measures were announced last week but they didn’t really change anything. We will have to wait and see what Macron will say next week.
As I said above these Yellow Vests protests started on the social media. So it is hard for the French government to talk to anyone and find a compromise.
Does the immigration and refugee crisis have any role in these protests?
Some issues regarding immigration especially in Calais have been a problem. Some Yellow Vests think that migrants are stealing their jobs. They are not.
How will the opposition encash the Paris Protests?
Far-Right Leader Marine Le Pen incited the Yellow Vests to demonstrate on the Champs-Élysées (in central Paris) while Jean-Luc Melenchon of the far Left demonstrated in Marseille, and the MP Francois Ruffin demonstrated in his local constituency.
Opposition leaders and politicians are all divided regarding the Yellow Vests Protests.
Will the televised address by Emmanuel Marcon on Tuesday have any impact?
Macron didn’t react to the protests last week. We will have to wait and see what Emmanuel Macron will say this week about the Yellow Vests.
He was in Argentina last Saturday for the G20 but on Sunday when he came back he visited the Arc de Triomphe which was tagged, and an avenue off the Place de l’Etoile in Paris to thank firemen and policemen. For the moment we don’t know if there will be protests next Saturday.
His Prime Minister Edouard Philippe and the minister of the interior were on the front line last week.
It was stated that Macron would meet the association of local elected officials, employer’s organisations and trade-union representatives on Monday. Whether or not any proposed reform or dialogue will have concrete impact would take time to analyse.
(French President Emmanuel Macron will deliver a televised address at 8 pm Paris time, tonight December 10.)