France’s ‘yellow vest’ protests lose momentum on decisive weekend

PARIS, Groups of defiant yellow vest demonstrators faced off with tens of thousands of police around France Saturday, but the protest movement appeared to have lost momentum on a fifth and decisive weekend.

President Emmanuel Macron, facing the biggest crisis of his presidency,

announced a series of concessions on Monday to defuse the explosive yellow

vest crisis, which swelled up from rural and smalltown France last month.

The package of tax and minimum wage measures for lowincome workers,

coupled with bitter winter weather this weekend, appeared to have helped

bring calm to the country after more than a month of clashes and disruption.

France was also hit by a fresh deadly terror attack on Tuesday night when a

gunman opened fire at a Christmas market in Strasbourg, leaving four dead and

leading the government to urge people to stay at home to spare the stretched

security forces.

Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said Saturday that eight people had

now died in incidents linked to the demonstrations, and called on protesters

to halt their blockades across the country.

Everyone's safety has to become the rule again, he said in a tweet.

Dialogue now needs to unite all those who want to transform France.

Richard Ferrand, the head of the National Assembly, welcomed the

necessary weakening of the rallies, adding that there had been a massive

response to their demands.

An estimated 66,000 people took to the streets across France, according to

figures from the interior ministry early Saturday evening, half the level of

a week ago.

But Macron's approval rating has also fallen: dropping to 23 percent

according to a poll published by Le Journal du Dimanche newspaper on Sunday,

down two points from November. It marks a sharp decline from his 62 percent

rating following his election in May last year.

'Movement won't end'

It's a bit of a failure because the state is stopping us from being able

to demonstrate properly, Marie, a 35yearold domestic helper and protester,

told AFP of the declining numbers in Paris.

Another protester in the southeastern city of Lyon, Francis Nicolas, 49,

told AFP: It's a bit disappointing. We expected there to be more people, but

the movement won't end.

In Paris, the more than 8,000 police on duty easily outnumbered the 2,200

protesters counted by local authorities in the early afternoon.

There were 168 arrests by early evening, far down on the roughly 1,000 of

last Saturday.

Tear gas was occasionally fired, but a fraction of the amount was used

compared with the weekends of December 8 or December 1 when graffiti was

daubed on the Arc de Triomphe in scenes that shocked France.

Minor clashes were reported in southwestern Bordeaux where teargas was used

and projectiles thrown. It was a similar picture in Toulouse, Nantes,

Besancon, Nancy, SaintEtienne and Lyon.

Protesters snarled traffic on motorways in the south of the country and on

the A16 near the port of Calais in the north.

Public opinion

Until this week, a clear majority of French people had backed the protests,

which sprung up initially over high taxes before snowballing into a wider

opposition to Macron's probusiness agenda and style of governing.

But two polls published on Tuesday � in the wake of Macron's concessions

suggested the country was now broadly 5050 on whether the protests should


In a bid to end the standoff, a visibly contrite Macron announced a package

of measures on Monday in a televised address, estimated by economists to cost

up to 15 billion euros ($17 billion).

The 40yearold former investment banker acknowledged widespread animosity

towards him and came close to apologising for a series of verbal gaffes seen

as dismissive of the poor or jobless.

He cancelled planned fuel tax hikes for 2019, offered a rise in the minimum

wage of 100 euros ($115) a month next year, as well as tax relief for many

pensioners and taxfree overtime.

Some senior figures in the yellow vest movement � which has no official

leaders and dozens of separate demands � had urged protesters to continue to

press home their advantage.

It's really the time to keep going, one of them, Eric Drouet, said in a

video posted on Facebook. What Macron did on Monday, was a call to carry on

because he has started to give ground, which is unusual for him.

Many protesters appeared to have switched their focus from the core issue

of the protests so far � taxes and spending power � to other demands such

as the greater use of referendums to decide government policy.

Last time, we were here for taxes, a 28yearold yellow vest called

Jeremy told AFP as he arrived on the ChampsElysees in the freezing cold on

Saturday morning.

This is for the institutions: we want more direct democracy, he said,

adding that people needed to shout to make themselves heard.

More than 1,400 people have been injured since the protests began on

November 17.

Around 69,000 security forces were mobilised across France, down from

89,000 last Saturday when 2,000 people were detained.

Source: Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha (BSS)