French police clash with ‘yellow vest’ protesters angry over fuel taxes
السبت 16 ربيع الأول 1440ﻫ 24-11-2018م

A protester gestures during a “Yellow vest” protest against higher fuel prices during clashes on the Champs-Elysees in Paris. (Reuters)Al Arabiya English and agencies Saturday, 24 November 2018

Security forces in Paris fired tear gas and water cannon Saturday to disperse protesters who tried to break through a police cordon on the Champs-Elysees, an AFP journalist said.

Several thousand demonstrators, wearing high-visibility yellow jackets, had gathered on the avenue as part of protests, which began last Saturday against an increase in diesel tax.

Tens of thousands of people will rally in Paris on Saturday against rising fuel costs and President Emmanuel Macron’s economic policies, the second weekend of “yellow vest” protests that have led to widespread national disruption.

Yellow Vests protesters who spoke to Al Arabiya News Channel said that police began to fire tear gas at demonstrators which led to clashes. Protesters said that their march began as peaceful and turned violent once police began to respond forcefully.

“We began peacefully and it is our right to assemble and protest. They, the police, began to use force with water cannons and teargas canisters to disperse us. A lot of people are becoming increasingly angry and are beginning to march toward the Elysee Palace demanding Macron to take action and address the crowds,” one protester told Al Arabiya.

A protester speaks to Al Arabiya’s Paris Bureau Chief Hussein Kneiber. (Al Arabiya)

Security forces are concerned that far-left and far-right extremists may infiltrate the demonstrations, escalating the crowd-control challenges. Around 30,000 people are expected to protest in Paris alone, Denis Jacob, secretary general of police union Alternative Police, told Reuters.

“We know there are ultra-right and ultra-left infiltrators. You can also expect gangs from the suburbs and ‘black-blocks’,” he said, referring to a militant protest force.

Some 3,000 police officers have been drafted in to work in Paris on Saturday, city hall said, with security forces having to handle a demonstration against sexual violence, a soccer match and a rugby game in the capital on the same day.

Al Arabiya’s Paris Bureau Chief Hussein Kneiber reports from the center of the ‘yellow vests’ protests. (Al Arabiya)

For more than a week, protesters clad in the fluorescent yellow jackets that all motorists in France must have in their cars have blocked highways across the country with burning barricades and convoys of slow-moving trucks, obstructing access to fuel depots, shopping centers and some factories.

They are opposed to taxes Macron introduced last year on diesel and petrol to encourage people to shift to more environmentally friendly transport. Alongside the tax, the government has offered incentives to buy green or electric vehicles.

Protesters face riot police as they block the A10 motorway in Virsac, near Bordeaux, southwestern France, on November 18, 2018. (AFP)

Last Saturday, when nearly 300,000 people took part in the first yellow vest demonstrations countrywide, retailers’ daily revenue fell 35 percent, according to consumer groups.

The unrest is a dilemma for Macron who casts himself as a champion against climate change but has been derided as out of touch with common folk and is fighting a slump in popularity.

In Paris, authorities have permitted a gathering next to the Eiffel Tower on Saturday but rejected requests for a protest on the Place de la Concorde, which is close to the National Assembly and the presidential Elysee Palace. The tower itself will be closed to the public.

Despite calls for calm from the government, the yellow vest protests have spread to French territories abroad, including the Indian Ocean island of Reunion, where cars were set on fire.

The unrest has left two dead and 606 injured in mainland France, the Interior Ministry said on Thursday.

While the movement, which has no leader, began as a backlash against higher fuel prices, it has tapped into broader frustration at the sense of a squeeze on household spending power under Macron’s 18-month-old government.

French retailers warned on Friday that the protests across the country could derail the crucial Christmas shopping season that started with Black Friday discounts.

Despite the disruptions, an Elabe poll for BFM TV showed 70 percent of French still approve of the yellow vest movement.

Since coming to power, Macron has seen off trade union and street demonstrations against his changes to the labor rules, and overhauled the heavily indebted state rail operator. Foreign investors have largely cheered his pro-business administration.

But political foes have dismissed him as the “president of the rich” for ending a wealth tax, and voters appear to be growing restless, with the 40-year-old president’s popularity slumped at barely 20 percent.Last Update: Saturday, 24 November 2018 KSA 18:26 – GMT 15:262,878