French PM seeks ‘unity’; 1,700 protestors arrested

French PM seeks ‘unity’; 1,700  protestors arrested
People run away from a burning car during clashes, Saturday in Marseille, southern France. (AP)
Paris, Dec 9 (IANS) | Publish Date: 12/9/2018 12:06:27 PM IST

French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe on Sunday vowed to “restore national unity” after violence during the weekend forced police to use tear gas and rubber bullets against the “yellow vest” demonstrators, who protested against fuel tax rises and high living costs, leading to over 1,700 arrests. However, the violence on Saturday that was the fourth one was not on the same level as the week earlier, the BBC reported.

Discussions with peaceful protesters “must continue”, Philippe said, adding “No tax should jeopardise our national unity. We must now rebuild that national unity through dialogue, through work, and by coming together.”

He said President Emmanuel Macron, who many protesters felt should stand down, would soon “put forward measures to foster dialogue”.

French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner praised police, who had been deployed in force, for containing much of the unrest. Castaner, who warned that the number of arrests increased due to the violence in Paris and some other cities added that 118 demonstrators were known to have been injured along with 17 police officials.

During protests on December 1, 201 civilians and 284 police personnel were injured amid scenes of urban guerrilla tactics.

French authorities deployed a huge police force and used water cannons, tear gas and, for the first time in 40 years, a dozen armoured cars.

The first clashes between police and protesters occurred last Saturday morning in the Champs Elysees, the Yellow Vests’ main meeting point.

With a view to prevention, and following the December 1 vandalism, most businesses in the threatened areas remained closed, starting with the big department stores.  Also shut were the monuments and museums of Paris like the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre. In addition, from the early hours, 36 subway stations remained closed.

Other disturbances took place around the country, including Bordeaux, Toulouse, Marseilles, Lyon and Nantes.

Demonstrations by the Yellow Vests movement began as a protest against increased taxes on fuel planned for 2019, a ruling that was annulled this week by the government.

Many still demand the resignation of Macron as they continue to demand an increase in social spending on pensions and education, slashing taxes, improving infrastructure, curtailing immigration and ending the privatisation of public services, among many other issues. In a tweet late on Saturday, Macron thanked the security forces for their “courage and exceptional professionalism” against the “gilets jaunes” protesters.

The yellow vests are so-called because they have taken to the streets wearing the high-visibility yellow clothing that is required to be carried in every vehicle by French law. 

Over the past few weeks, the social media movement has morphed from a protest over fuel prices to a leaderless spectrum of interest groups and differing demands, the BBC said.

France protests ‘an economic catastrophe’
The “yellow vest” protests have been “a catastrophe” for the French economy, the finance minister says.
According to BBC, France has seen four consecutive weekends of demonstrations against fuel tax rises, high living costs, and other issues.
Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire called the situation “a crisis” for both society and democracy.
“It’s a catastrophe for commerce, it’s a catastrophe for our economy,” he said during a visit to shops in Paris that had been damaged during the protests.
The capital was particularly badly hit, with windows smashed, cars burned, and shops looted, as 10,000 people took part in demonstrations.
“There was much more damage yesterday than a week ago” because Saturday’s protests were more dispersed, deputy mayor Emmanuel Gregoire told local radio.
However, he added that there had been fewer injuries compared with last week.
It is too early to calculate the full economic cost - but it’s clear the damage is severe.
On Friday, the French retail federation told Reuters news agency that retailers had lost about 1bn euros ($1.1bn; £900m) since the protests first began on 17 November.
Mr Le Maire said last week, before the most recent protests, that the restaurant trade had declined by between 20% and 50%.
Meanwhile, the authorities in Paris say that riots have caused millions of pounds’ worth of damage.

The movement began as a protest against a rise in duties on diesel, which is widely used by French motorists and has long been less heavily taxed than other types of fuel.
Diesel prices have risen by about 23% over the past 12 months - and Mr Macron’s decision to impose a tax increase of 6.5 cents on diesel and 2.9 cents on petrol from 1 January enraged protesters.
Mr Macron had blamed world oil prices for three-quarters of the price rise, but said higher taxes on fossil fuels were needed to fund renewable energy investments.
The rallies became known as the “yellow vest” or “gilet jaunes” movement because protesters took to the streets wearing the high-visibility yellow jackets that are required to be carried in every vehicle by French law.

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