How the 'yellow vest' protests progressed: a timeline

December 08, 2018

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A protester wearing a Guy Fawkes mask makes the victory sign near a burning barricade. —AFP/File
A protester wearing a Guy Fawkes mask makes the victory sign near a burning barricade. —AFP/File

The French government is struggling to cope with violent protests against rising taxes and high cost of living that have led to the worst urban riots the country has seen in over a decade.

The “yellow vests”, named after the high-visibility safety jackets worn by demonstrators, began blocking roads, fuel depots and shopping centres around France on Nov 17.

Since then the movement has snowballed into a wider revolt against French President Emmanuel Macron’s economic policies and his top-down approach to power.

So far four people have died and hundreds have been injured during the protests. A new day of high-risk demonstrations in Paris is planned on Saturday.

Here is a timeline of the “yellow vest” movement in France, from the first online rumblings against a fuel tax hike to nationwide protests.

Viral video

A video posted on Facebook on Oct 18 quickly goes viral. It shows a woman, Jacline Mouraud, addressing French President Emmanuel Macron — “Monsieur Macron”, she says — from her living room.

In it she lists the grievances of drivers in the face of the fuel price hike.

A petition to bring down the price of fuel is posted online.

Mass protests

Saturday, Nov 17, is the first day of road blockades across France with nearly 290,000 demonstrators wearing the fluorescent yellow vests motorists are required to carry in their cars.

The protests are spontaneous and not organised by political parties or unions.

The next day Prime Minister Edouard Philippe says the government will not back down.

Violence breaks out in the French Indian Ocean island of La Reunion, led mainly by armed youths.

Second Saturday

The next protests take place the following Saturday, Nov 24. Thousands of demonstrators clash with police on the Champs-Elysees in Paris.

Paris in pictures: Burned cars and graffiti littered monuments

More than 106,000 demonstrators are recorded across France, including 8,000 in Paris. Revised official numbers count 166,000.

Aborted meeting

On Nov 27, Macron offers minor concessions, saying he would propose a mechanism to adjust the tax increases and calls for a three-month national consultation.

Unimpressed, the “yellow vests” call for a new protest on December 1 on the Champs-Elysees.

On Nov 29, Philippe meets a “yellow vest” protester. A day later two accept his invitation, but one walks out.

Chaos in Paris

The third day of protests takes place on Saturday, Dec 1, with widespread violence erupting particularly in Paris around the Arc de Triomphe and several upscale neighbourhoods.

The government says some 136,000 people protested across the country.

Crisis meetings

On his return from the G20 summit in Argentina, Macron immediately calls a crisis meeting at the Elysee Palace on Dec 2.

Philippe meets with political party leaders on Dec 3. "Yellow vests" representatives announce they will not go to a meeting with Philippe planned the following day — later cancelled — as some say they have received death threats.

Blockages of roads, shopping centres and fuel depots continue.

Seizing on the momentum from the protests, students start demonstrating over education reforms, disrupting dozens of high schools every day from Dec 3.

Six-month suspension

On Dec 4, the government retreats.

The prime minister says planned tax increases on petrol and diesel on Jan 1 will be suspended for six months and hikes in regulated electricity and gas prices will be frozen during the winter.

The “yellow vests” reject the moves as insufficient and press ahead with plans for a fourth day of protests on Saturday, Dec 8.

The government fears the new protests could lead to a new explosion of violence, anticipating participation by the far left and far right.

2019 tax hikes scrapped

On Dec 5, Macron announces that all planned fuel tax hikes for 2019 will be scrapped.

However, he rules out re-imposing a “fortune tax” on high-earners.

Farmers say they are planning to hold demonstrations next week, to support their own demands.

High risk demonstration

For the fourth day of protests on Saturday, 89,000 security force members will be deployed, including 8,000 in Paris. Armoured vehicles will also be mobilised in the capital.

The government, as well as most opposition parties and unions have called for calm.

On the eve of a demonstration, “yellow vest” representatives advise against demonstrating in Paris where museums, monuments, big shops and many metro stations will be closed.