Woman’s death casts shadow over France’s ‘yellow vest’ protests
A protester was accidently killed and more than 220 injured as tens of thousands of people blocked roads across France in a “yellow vest” protest against high fuel prices, which has channeled anger at stagnant spending under President Emmanuel Macron.
Nearly 283,000 people were estimated to have taken part in more than 2,000 protests at roundabouts and on major highways and thoroughfares across the country on Nov. 17, the Interior Ministry said.
Some 227 people were injured -- seven seriously, including a police officer -- and 117 detained, with 73 then taken into police custody.
Although most of the blockades were carried out without incident, tempers flared at times as some drivers confronted the protesters or tried to force their way through.
In the eastern Savoie region, a 63-year-old woman was killed when a mother trying to take her daughter to see a doctor panicked after protesters surrounded their car, and suddenly accelerated into the crowd.
The driver, who police said was in a state of shock, was taken in for questioning.
Among those injured were a police officer in the Mediterranean city of Grasse, one in eastern Strasbourg and two in northwestern Quimper.
“This is what we were worried about... unorganized demonstrations by people who aren’t necessarily used to such things,” Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said in a statement.
In Paris, several hundred protesters yelling “Macron resign!” and singing La Marseillaise massed on the Champs-Elysees and the Place de la Concorde, hoping to march toward the Elysee Palace, Macron’s official residence.
Riot police blocked their path, but several hundreds managed to get around them using side streets and get close to the Elysee Palace in the afternoon before being driven back by tear gas. They later mostly dispersed without incident.
Officials had warned that police would intervene to ensure no roads were completely blocked.
Some demonstrators announced they intended to camp out overnight and might continue the protest.
The “yellow vests” movement, named for the high-visibility jackets worn by supporters, erupted on social media last month with calls for blockades of roads and highways.
The protesters say they are being squeezed by years of fuel tax increases that have driven prices to levels not seen since the early 2000s.
But analysts say the movement now represents more widespread frustration against Macron, a former investment banker who has pushed through a series of reforms aimed at bolstering economic growth.
“We’re showing that the French do not support their government’s policies,” said Franck Deroo, a 47-year-old electrician at a blockade on a highway near the Belgian border in Neuville-en-Ferrain, northern France.
The popularity of French President Emmanuel Macron has dropped to just 25 percent, according to a poll by research group Ifop published on Nov. 18 in the Journal du Dimanche.
The movement enjoys much more public support than others against Macron since he swept to the presidency last year.
An Elabe poll last week found that 73 percent of respondents backed the movement.
Protesters say he is neglecting the lower and middle classes, pointing to tax cuts for high earners and companies.