ANTI-government protesters in yellow high visibility vests have been wreaking havoc and destruction on the streets of Paris for more than six weeks.
The protests began in mid-November over fuel tax rises but have escalated into expressions of wider discontent about President Emmanuel Macron’s policies. Here’s what you need to know.
Who are the yellow vests?
The yellow vest movement is led by protesters wearing the distinctively coloured roadside safety vests used by motorists known as gilets jaunes in French
Since the movement kicked off November 17, three people have been killed and hundreds injured in clashes or accidents stemming from the protests.
In the past six weeks, demonstrators have been setting up roadblocks across the country and their movement has won wide public support.
France’s interior ministry says about 136,000 people took part in the protests nationwide on December 2.
Demonstrators burned dozens of cars, looted boutiques and smashed up luxury private homes and cafes in the worst disturbances the capital has seen since 1968.
The yellow vest movement’s supporters cut across age, job profile and geographical region.
Days later their ranks were swelled by paramedics complaining about working conditions and students angry about education reforms as the violence continued.
It has succeeded in bringing together people from across the political spectrum complaining about France’s economic inequalities and waning spending power.
The movement has organised online and has no clear leadership, making talks all the more complicated for the government.
Demonstrators once again took to the streets of Paris on December 8 with an estimated 5,000 protesters taking over the streets of the French capital.
An estimated 8,000 officers, along with 12 armoured vehicles have been deployed in Paris alone, with almost 90,000 across the country.
The protests continued into a fifth week as yellow vests continued to swarm the capital in defiance.
A violent scuffle broke out on the Champs-Elysees boulevard in the French capital as thousands of anti-government demonstrators gathered.
On December 22, 2o18 violence erupted once more in Paris as a cop was seen pulling a gun on Yellow Vest protesters and a car crash victim became the tenth person to die in the riots.
New Year’s Eve 2018 saw 150,000 police officers deployed across the capital as protesters took to the streets on the last day of the year.
The peaceful but large scale demonstrations came as Macron said during a televised New Year’s address that the movement’s protests would not persuade his government to abandon its economic agenda.
Positive results from his policies “cannot be immediate,” the French leader said, pledging to make changes to France’s national unemployment insurance and pension system.
He called for “recovering unity” and the “efforts of everybody” in 2019.
Who is Eric Drouet?
Eric Drouet is one of the leading public figures behind the protests in Paris.
He was arrested for a second time on January 2, 2019, this time on suspicion of organising an unofficial protest after asking people to gather and lay candles near the Champs-Elysées for those who died during months of protests.
His arrest prompted outrage from Parisians who have accused the police of harassment.
One political leader in France labelled Drouet’s arrest as “an abuse of power by the government”.
Drouet was released from custody within 24 hours.
He was first arrested on December 22, 2018 during the 6th wave of protests, and was charged with carrying a weapon in the form of a baton and for taking part in a group formed with intent to commit violence.
His lawyer insists that the “baton” was just a piece of wood that was in his bag – and argued the arrest was politically motivated and aimed at discrediting him.
Drouet will appear in court over the first arrest in June 2019.
The protest leader is actually a lorry driver by trade, but rose to prominence during emergence of the gilet jaunes movement in October 2018.
The 33-year-old is credited with suggesting that angry drivers deliberately block or slow traffic in their area on 17 November, causing enough disruption to attract the government’s attention.
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What do they want?
Most want the government to scrap the new fuel taxes, hold a review of the tax system and raise the minimum wage.
There have also been calls to roll back Macron’s tax cuts for the wealthy and his economic programme, which is seen as pro-business.
One protester said the reforms “will bludgeon us financially and destroy our companies. We’re going to have to fire people, that’s for sure.”
One of the eight spokesmen for movement Christophe Chalençon called on Macron to resign.
He said the President should step aside for General Pierre de Villiers is a former head of the French armed forces
The general resigned after a clash with President Emmanuel Macron over budget cuts and Chalencon called him a “true commander”.
Macron says the fuel tax increases are part of his effort to combat climate change, wanting to persuade French drivers to exchange diesel-fuelled cars for less polluting models.
At the weekend he said he would not budge from his policies.