PARIS: Anti-government protesters gained new allies on Monday as French paramedics and students joined ongoing rallies while the prime minister met with political rivals in a bid to ease the anger following riots that rocked Paris.
Facing the most serious crisis since his election in May 2017, President Emmanuel Macron remained silent but met with police officers to offer them support after “a day of unprecedented violence,” the Elysee palace said.
On Saturday, more than 130 people were injured and 412 arrested in the French capital amid one of the worst waves of unrest in the country in recent years. Police responded with tear gas and water cannons, closing down dozens of streets and subway stations to contain the riot.
The “yellow vest” movement led by protesters wearing the distinctively coloured roadside safety vests used by motorists is bringing together people from across the political spectrum complaining about France’s economic inequalities and waning spending power.
More protests took place on Monday in Paris, as dozens of ambulances blocked a bridge leading to the National Assembly. Lines of riot police stood in the rain to prevent them from getting too close to the building.
The paramedics who joined the demonstrations are complaining about changes to working conditions. Students opposing education reforms also joined in, blocking dozens of high schools across France, according to French media reports.
Clashes between protesters and police officers took place again on Monday on the Indian Ocean island of Reunion, where demonstrations have been particularly violent in recent weeks.
Macron, just back from the Group of 20 summit in Argentina, held an emergency meeting on Sunday on security. The government hasn’t ruled out the possibility of imposing a state of emergency.
Saturday’s rioting was the third straight weekend of clashes in Paris. The protests began last month with motorists upset over a fuel tax increase and have grown to include a range of complaints that Macron’s government doesn’t care about the problems of ordinary people. Other protests in France remained peaceful.
By Sunday, some of the most popular tourist streets in Paris were littered with torched cars and broken glass from looted shops, and the Arc de Triomphe monument was defaced by graffiti.
During Monday’s protest by paramedics, some demonstrators set fire to a small pile of debris and blocked traffic. One activist held up a sign reading “The State killed me,” and others chanted “Macron resign!” Prime Minister Edouard Philippe and Macron have been criticised for their handling of the crisis. After meeting with the prime minister, Socialist leader Olivier Faure urged Philippe to drop the tax increases and to restore a wealth tax that was slashed by the centrist government.
“We want a change in the method. One needs to come down from Mount Olympus,” Faure said, a reference to Macron’s nickname of Jupiter, from the ancient Roman god.
Published in Dawn, December 4th, 2018