[dropcap]A[/dropcap] clean-up operation was underway in Paris Sunday after violent protests injured 130 people and led to the arrest of 412. This is the worst civil unrest in Paris since 1968.
Some 5,000 demonstrators — known as “Yellow Jackets” due to their fluorescent garb — descended onto Paris’ streets Saturday in the latest round of protests against rising gas taxes and the high cost of living.
Rioters tore apart parts of the city, torching cars, smashing windows, looting stores and tagging the Arc de Triomphe with multi-colored graffiti. Police fired tear gas and water cannons as some demonstrators launched projectiles over police lines.
The protest, now called as the ‘Yellow Vest Protest’, comes 18 months into President Emmanuel Macron’s presidency. It has been named so because the participants are wearing fluorescent safety jackets that are kept in all cars in France. The protesters, “gilets jaunes” (yellow vests), reportedly have no real structure or leadership.
Why are they protesting?
The ongoing protest started in response to Macron’s new policy of fuel tax hike. However, as the protest strengthened and spread, people came out in the open to express their dissatisfaction with Macron’s economic policies, which many voters feel are in favour of the wealthy and big businesses.
When did the unrest start?
The ongoing unrest erupted on November 17. Since then, the protest has spread quickly via social media. Reuters reported that in many places, protesters have been blocking roads and impeding access to shopping malls, factories and some fuel depots.
Is it a widespread protest?
While Paris has seen some ugly scenes in the past few days with police arresting over 400 people, the protest is not limited to the national capital. Unrest also erupted in several towns and cities across France, from Charleville Mezieres in the northeast to Marseille in the south.
In the Riviera city of Nice trucks blocked access to the airport, and in the central town of Puy-en-Velay the police headquarters was set on fire, Reuters said in a report.
Is it spontaneous or organized?
According to news reports, the protest is a spontaneous one. However, the government has urged the Yellow Vest movement to disassociate itself from the radical groups that allegedly instigated the violence. It said the protesters should come to the negotiating table.
Authorities said violent groups from the far right and far left, as well as “thugs” from the suburbs had infiltrated the yellow vests movement in Paris on Saturday, though Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said most of those arrested were regular protesters who had been egged on by fringe groups.
What is French govt’s stand?
In a statement on Sunday, the French government said it may impose a state of emergency to control the situation. Government spokesperson Benjamin Griveaux made it clear that while the government is open to talks, it will not change the course of its policies. She said, “We won’t change course. It’s the right direction. We are certain of that.”
President Macron, who was away in Argentina for the G-20 summit, will hold an emergency meeting with the prime minister and interior minister later today (December 2) to discuss the riots and how to begin dialogue with the protesters.
“I will never accept violence,” Macron told a news conference in Buenos Aires before flying home, Reuters reported.