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Macron urged to act after protests hit France

December 10, 2018

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PARIS: Calls mounted on Sunday for President Emmanuel Macron to bring an end to the “yellow vest” crisis gripping France as authorities counted the cost of another day of violent protests and looting.

Authorities said the anti-Macron riots in Paris had been less violent than a week ago, with fewer injured — but city hall said the physical damage was far worse as the protests were spread out across the capital.

Burned-out cars dotted the streets in several neighbourhoods on Sunday morning as cleaners swept up the broken glass from smashed shop windows and bus stops.

“There was much more dispersion, so many more places were impacted,” Paris deputy mayor Emmanuel Gregoire told France Inter radio. “There was much more damage yesterday than there was a week ago.”

The southwestern city of Bordeaux was also badly hit by rioting during a fourth successive weekend of nationwide “yellow vest” protests.

What began as demonstrations against fuel tax hikes have ballooned into a mass movement over rising living costs and accusations that Macron, an ex-banker, only looks out for the rich.

Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said the unrest was a “catastrophe” for the French economy, with nationwide roadblocks playing havoc with the traffic and putting off tourists from visiting Paris.

Government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux vowed that Macron’s centrist administration would find solutions that took into account protesters’ grievances.

“It is clear that we underestimated people’s need to make themselves heard,” Griveaux told Europe 1 radio. “It is anger that is difficult to understand from an office in Paris,” he acknowledged.

Alain Juppe, mayor of Bordeaux where a protester lost his hand after picking up an anti-riot grenade, joined calls from across the political spectrum for Macron to respond. “This disorder must end,” the former prime minister tweeted. “The president must speak, and speak quickly.”

Nationwide, more than 2,000 people were detained — over 1,000 of them in Paris as police vowed “zero tolerance” for anarchists, far-right supporters and others seeking to cause trouble.

But Thibault de Montbrial, head of the CRSI security think tank, warned that strained police could not continue mounting the same kind of operation week after week. “The state cannot mobilise such forces every Saturday, and neither can shopkeepers barricade themselves in faced with violence which is not diminishing,” he tweeted.

Russian propaganda accounts?

According to Britain’s Times newspaper, hundreds of online accounts linked to Russia were used to stoke the demonstrations.

Citing analysis by New Knowledge, a cybersecurity company, the Times said the accounts spread disinformation and used pictures of injured protesters from other events to enhance a narrative of brutality by French authorities.

Published in Dawn, December 10th, 2018