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France

Yellow Vests to take to the French streets again

media A protester waves a French flag during clashes with police at a demonstration by the "yellow vests" movement in Paris, France, December 8, 2018. REUTERS

One month after the beginning of their movement, the Yellow Vests are keeping up the pressure on Friday on the eve of Act V. This came after a week marked by Emmanuel Macron’s announcing concessions and the fatal Strasbourg attack.

Macron announced a series of measures on Monday night in an address to the nation, including a hike in the minimum wage and tax relief for pensioners and on overtime work. There have also been calls to suspend the protest movement after the Strasbourg Christmas market attack on Tuesday evening. But these appear to have done little to affect the determination of the Yellow Vests.

“This is the very moment when you shouldn’t give up (...). We must continue,” Eric Drouet, one of the movement’s initiators, urged Thursday in a Facebook video: “What Macron did on Monday was a call to continue because he is starting to let go of control and, coming from him, it is unusual.

Yellow Vest protest aftermath

“Macron’s announcements are not enough. The people in power are very disconnected from what the French are going through,” says Guilhem Boudon, a pastor in Mirepoix who came to Paris on Friday in preparation for Act V.

After four Saturdays of mobilization, three of which were marked by spectacular violence and degradation, some nevertheless are promoting a slowing down of the protests. The collective known as the “free yellow vests”, which moved away from the main group as they deemed it too radical, are calling for a “truce” and say that “the time for dialogue has come”.

The Robin des Bus association, which has transported northern Yellow Yests for the past three weekends, has cancelled the departures scheduled for Saturday, a sign that the demonstrators “were not mobilizing to go to Paris,” said its president, Thibault Vayron.

But on Facebook, the main channel for activating this movement, the many calls for Act V are still motivating several thousand users.

Last Saturday, the fourth weekly day of protest brought together 136,000 demonstrators across France, according to the Ministry of the Interior. It resulted in a record number of arrests (nearly 2,000), more than 320 injured and damage and clashes in several cities, such as Paris, Bordeaux and Toulouse.

The police system in the capital will be “quite similar” to that of 7 December, with 8,000 police forces deployed and supported by 14 wheeled armoured vehicles, said Police Commissioner Michel Delpuech.

Last weekend, a total of 89,000 police forces were deployed throughout the country.

Referendum

The initiators of the movement are now calling for a referendum on four proposals, including the introduction of a citizens’ initiative referendum and the lowering of taxes on essential products.

“These requests are what we collected (via Facebook surveys) and we would like the president to submit them to the citizens by way of a referendum. The idea is not to impose anything on anyone but to hold a referendum to see if everyone agrees on these points,” explained Priscillia Ludosky, another figure at the origin of the movement.

After the Strasbourg attack, which raised the terrorist spectre and ended with when the police killed the gunman on Thursday evening, many voices, particularly within the majority and the government, were raised to call for “responsibility” and not to demonstrate.

“I would prefer that the police forces are in the process of doing their real job, which is prosecuting criminals and reducing the risk of terrorism rather than having to secure roundabouts,” Interior Minister Christophe Castaner reminded Europe 1 on Friday.

But opposition leaders believe the Strasbourg attack is not connected to this protest movement. “What does the Strasbourg killer have to do with the Yellow Vest movement? Nothing. If we start to give in to an assassin by modifying our whole life, he is the one who won,” said the leader of La France Insoumise, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, on Thursday.

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