French Police Use Tear Gas As Protests Escalate

During the latest round of rallies, police have utilized tear gas against protesters throughout Central France. As many as 125,000 demonstrators, belonging to the “Yellow Vest” movement, came out to march across the country, with 10,000 taking to the streets of Paris. In response, notable landmarks such as the Eiffel tower were closed to avoid damage by rioters, whilst stores were boarded up to ensure that they would not fall victim to looters as in previous demonstrations. So far there have been an estimated 1,385 protesters detained by authorities after they were found to have brought baseball bats, hammers and other make-shift weaponry to rallies.

The march against the French leadership began three weeks ago when President Emmanuel Macron announced intentions to adopt a policy to increase the cost of fuel in an attempt to bring down carbon emissions. The price hike was eventually overturned by Macron in order to quell the chaos, but it appears to have done little. Many claim that the fuel hike was the latest of many grievances that the public has levelled at the president, hence the continuing protests. Current demonstrators are now also calling for lower taxes, increase of salaries, improved retirement benefits and some are even asking for President Macron’s resignation.

The current climate and reaction from the public has been exemplified by the words of Paris activist Taha Bouhafs. In a statement to Al Jazeera, Mr. Bouhafs said that “There is a rising of the people’s rage and it’s caused by a single reason – the government’s policies that only look to take from the poor to keep for the rich.” French Prime Minister Édouard Philippe has expressed the need for talks and negotiation to continue, saying that “The dialogue has begun and it must continue.” He also added during a televised broadcast, “The president will speak, and will propose measures that will feed this dialogue.”

While some of the actions being undertaken by protesters have been extreme, such as damage to the Arc de Triomphe and attacks on civilians, rallies have reached their present fever pitch due to a variety of factors affecting livelihoods. This is representative of a failure on behalf of the leaders to judge the needs of the community, reflected in the scale and severity of the demonstrations that have erupted across Central France. While opening communication is a valiant first step, if Macron wants to is to ensure the stability of the government, more needs to be done to understand the origins of the grievances assailing the country in tandem with policy actions from the president.

The growing outrage and violence is a serious concern for France. It has already caused significant damage to one of Frances most noteworthy historical sites and has seen many small businesses targeted by vandals. Considering the president’s back-track on fuel hike policies, the scale of ongoing protests indicates that many of the issues raised have been mounting for some time. If France is to return to stability, these issues require serious examination. As well as this, Emmanuel Macron needs to listen closely to the needs of his people and be willing to enact meaningful policy changes to improve their livelihoods if he is to get to the heart of the public disillusionment afflicting his country.

Joshua Robinson