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Economy

Macron calls for tough stance on "gilets jaunes" disruption

media The "gilets jaunes" block the A10 motorway in the Virsac commune near Bordeaux, Sunday 18 November NICOLAS TUCAT/AFP

President Emmanuel Macron has told the French government to take a tough line against the yellow vests, or gilets jaunes movement, and called for protesters to respect the law.

The president has so far said little in public about the gilets jaunes, who on Saturday brought much of France to a standstill, as 300,000 people in fluorescent vests blocked roads in protest at a hike in petrol taxes.

Macron and his government are struggling to deal with the movement. The gilets jaunes have no leader with whom to negotiate and they communicate via social media.

Yesterday Macron suggested that there was a need for dialogue, but his advice to his cabinet ministers today suggests a 2 pronged approach which is not easy.

The government is trying to appear sensitive to the protestors' concerns but they are beyond words of sympathy. They want an end to what they consider punitive taxes, especially on fuel.

Day of action in Paris

The authorities will also have a tough time ensuring respect for the law and the safety of protestors and public.

Two people have already died as cars tried to push through road blocks and 500 people have been injured, including 95 policemen.

The next big show of force will be on Saturday when the gilets plan a major protest in Paris - and the government is worried.

The movement has no official permission for a protest but the government has let it be known that it would tolerate a peaceful gathering and allow access to spaces such as the Place de la Bastille or Place de la Republique, both well-known protest venues. But no one knows where the gilets jaunes plan to go, how many will turn up and what they will do in Paris.

Fears of violence

The gilets are not officially linked to any political party but there have been attempts to connect it to the far right Rassemblement National.

The police fear clashes with extreme left wing groups and there is always the lingering fear of terrorism. Four men were arrested on Tuesday, accused of plotting an act of terrorism on Saturday 17 November, when they expected police to be fully occupied managing the gilets jaune's first day of action.

In some parts of France, there are still road blocks. Riot police moved in to dislodge protestors who had blocked access to an oil refinery on Tuesday.

Some businesses are reporting a drop in sales and difficulties in receiving supplies. A spokesperson for the PSA car plant in Sochaux in Eastern France said no cars would be produced on Wednesday as key components had not arrived due to road blocks.

So far, the gilets still have much support among the French public, but if there is considerable violence in Paris at the weekend, that could change.

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