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Afp

The feisty Breton defender of fed-up French motorists

By AFP
media Jacline Mouraud hopes a protest against higher fuel prices will help create "the biggest political party in France, that of the people." AFP

Jacline Mouraud, an accordionist whose YouTube tirade over rising fuel prices propelled her to the fore of a French motorists' revolt, hopes Saturday's blockade of roads will be the beginning of something big.

"I know people who want to halt traffic for several days," says the 51-year-old from Bohal, western France, deep in the heart of Brittany, which has a long history of uprisings against taxes.

In a matter of weeks Mouraud has become the most prominent face of a resistance movement led by drivers seething over surging fuel prices they blame on higher taxes.

It's a much bigger stage for the former music hall accordionist, whose biggest brush with fame before now was getting her picture in the local paper after composing an alternative to "La Marseillaise", France's martial national anthem.

The media spotlight has been intense, shining a light on Mouraud's work as a hypnotherapist and belief in the paranormal -- including ectoplasm, a substance supposedly secreted by mediums during sessions -- for which she has been on the receiving end of snide comments.

An unperturbed Mouraud points to ex-president Francois Mitterrand, who is said to have declared before his death that "he believed in spiritual forces".

She also dismisses those who mock her warnings about "chemtrails", a favourite of conspiracy theorists who believe governments are spraying citizens with any number of nefarious chemicals. "I couldn't care less," she says.

The media-savvy mother of three grown children says she's more interested in defending the dozens of people who have contacted her since her October video, where she assails President Emmanuel Macron for squeezing those at the bottom of the social ladder.

They include a 71-year-old pensioner "who can't afford to eat after the 10th of each month" and "is only waiting to die," and a 36-year-old mother of two scraping by on just 515 euros ($585) a month.

"Do you think I'm going to let them down?" Mouraud says.

"As long as I'm able to speak out, I'm going to speak for them."

- 'How can they be so thick?' -

In railing against fuel costs, Mouraud has channelled a deeper anger among rural and small-town France against the "Parisian elites" who they say don't understand the challenges facing the vast majority of the French.

She says she lives on 1,000 euros a month and owns "nothing except her car", a black diesel SUV she bought for 11,000 euros 10 years ago -- when fuel tax made diesel more attractive than petrol.

But Macron, who has vowed to "Make our Planet Great Again", plans to continue the fuel tax increases introduced by his Socialist predecessor Francois Hollande, eventually making high-polluting diesel the more costly option.

With this year's advance in oil prices driving fuel costs even higher, voter anger has coalesced into the "Yellow Vests" movement, which has vowed nationwide gridlock on Saturday.

To try to defuse the anger Prime Minister Edouard Philippe has promised assistance for low-income households, including energy subsidies and higher scrappage bonuses towards cleaner vehicles.

Like many, Mouraud rejects the measures as "smoke and mirrors".

"How can they be so thick? They tax, they offer aid, they then tax the aid and it all starts over -- the prime minister has only succeeded in making the French even more angry," she says.

Mouraud will be taking part in Saturday's protests on the back of a motorcycle, touring the blockades to offer encouragement.

She hopes they will hand victory to "the biggest political party in France: the people."

 
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