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'They want to kill us' - Yellow Vests are not reassured by government moves

media A Yellow Vest protester and a trade unionist hold a banner calling to save the hospital, December 5 2018. Mike Woods, RFI

France’s government has called off a fuel tax that sparked weeks of Yellow Vest protests. But, in the town of Beaumont-sur-Oise north of Paris, the anger driving protesters runs much deeper.

Beaumont-sur-Oise is a town of about 10,000 residents, about 32 kilometres north of the French capital.

On a grey weekday afternoon, several hundred people are outside the town’s hospital, protesting a slate of closures and job losses announced the previous week.

The demonstration was organised by unions who estimate 300 jobs are going to be lost.

But a sizeable minority of the participants are wearing the reflective yellow vests that have become the symbol of widespread

discontent with the policies of President Emmanuel Macron.

“If I were not a Yellow Vest, it’s possible I would not have been here,” says Annie Mallon, a 57-year-old administrator in a nearby town.

“Today, I feel more implicated in different actions.”

Yellow Vests: Annie Mallon and Kevin Gomes were part of a group of 30 people from Beaumont-sur-Oise who demonstrated on the Champs-Elysées in Paris on 1 December. Mike Woods, RFI

She says she has never demonstrated before taking part in Yellow Vests protests, including two recent demonstrations on the Champs-Elysées Avenue in Paris.

“Mr. Macron succeeded in one thing,” says Kevin Gomes, a 28-year-old forklift operator who met Mallon through involvement in the protests.

“He successed in bringing the French people together. And we’re not going to give up until people can live a decent life.”

Pay more, get less

If there are common concerns motivating the Yellow Vests, it is the difficulties making ends meet and the sense that things will only get worse unless something changes.

Yellow Vests: Hugues Demaret says people are fed up with the rising costs of living. Mike Woods, RFI

“There are people who are on the right, who are on the left, who are apolitical. Everyone is fed up,” says Hugues Demaret, a retiree who says the government has imposed too many taxes.

“It’s the first time I’ve demonstrated, because I think they’ve finally gone too far. And we have to think of our children and grandchildren.”

The notion of paying more taxes while also losing public services aligns the anger of the Yellow Vests with the movement to save the hospital.

Despite a costly renovation of the hospital in recent years, officials are planning to close the emergency pediatrics, pediatrics and neonatology, and resuscitation services.

Yellow Vests: Emilie Petit is worried what the closing of emergency pediatrics could mean for the baby she is expecting. Mike Woods, RFI

Emilie Petit, 34, is worried about what the closures could mean for the baby she is expecting in May.

When asked how the government’s promise to postpose the fuel tax will affect the anger driving the protests, she looks to the sky and laughs.

“The government wants to kill us,” she says. “There are no other words. They want to kill the little people, the poor people. And it’s not possible.”

'There are more than just rich people in France'

When it comes to what has to change, there is a sense that the government has not taken a close enough look at the long-term effects of its policies.

“They are going to have to open their eyes a bit, because people haven’t been struggling since just yesterday,” says Emilie Petit.

Others believe the country’s rulers are simply unable to grasp the everyday realities of most people.

“The government and the lawmakers have no idea what it’s like to live with so little, on such a low minimum wage, and how hard it is to get to the end of the month,” says Hugues Demaret.

So far, the government’s offer to back down on the fuel tax has not swayed these Yellow Vests from the sense that the powers that be simply are not listening.

“We’ve been in the streets for three weeks and Macron hasn’t come to see us, and then, when one of the wealthiest avenues of Paris is burning, he comes the next day to see his rich compatriots,” says Kevin Gomes.

“Maybe it’s time to consider there are more than just rich people in France.”

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