Following violent riots in Paris, French President Emmanuel Macron will undoubtedly need to answer a number of domestic questions at the EU summit in Brussels on Sunday (25 November), expected to endorse the Brexit deal.
Police firing tear gas and water cannons clashed in the French capital on Saturday with thousands of protesters angry over rising car fuel costs and Macron’s economic policies, the second weekend of “yellow vest” protests across France.
As night fell, the famed Champs-Élysées avenue, where fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld switched on the red lights of Christmas just a few days ago, was still aglow with fires lit by protesters.
President Emmanuel Macron thanked police forces for their” courage and professionalism” in dealing with demonstrators as calm progressively returned to the Champs Elysees.
“Shame on those who attacked them … There is no room for this violence in the Republic,” Macron said on Twitter.
Merci à nos forces de l’ordre pour leur courage et leur professionnalisme. Honte à ceux qui les ont agressées. Honte à ceux qui ont violenté d’autres citoyens et des journalistes. Honte à ceux qui ont tenté d’intimider des élus. Pas de place pour ces violences dans la République.
— Emmanuel Macron (@EmmanuelMacron) November 24, 2018
During the clashes, a trailer was set on fire and exploded on the Champs Élysées, France’s most famous tourist mile, and a man who tried to attack firefighters was overpowered by some of the demonstrators themselves.
#UPDATE Anti-government protesters clashed with French police in central Paris on Saturday, leaving the famed #ChampsElysees avenue cloaked in tear gas on a fresh day of demonstrations against President Macron over fuel taxes https://t.co/NGZTKjMju8 #YellowVests #GiletsJaunes pic.twitter.com/hR0jw9eUzE
— AFP news agency (@AFP) November 24, 2018
On the nearby Avenue de Friedland, police fired special rubber balls to control demonstrators, who carried French flags or slogans, saying “Macron, resignation” and “Macron, thief”.
Around 8,000 protesters had converged on the Champs Élysées where police tried to prevent them from reaching the president’s Élysée Palace.
🇫🇷 Protestor holds a Breton flag amid tear gas on the Champs Elysees, during a national rally initiated by the Yellow vests (gilets jaunes in french) to protest against rising oil prices and living costs. #AFP #YellowVests
📸 @LucasBarioulet pic.twitter.com/XXV89dTFMJ
— AFP Photo (@AFPphoto) November 24, 2018
Police detained 130 people in Paris and in protests in other parts of the country.
Protesters are opposed to taxes Macron introduced last year on diesel and petrol which are designed to encourage people to switch to cleaner forms of transport. Alongside the tax, the government has offered incentives to buy electric vehicles.
#UPDATE Police in central Paris have fired tear gas and water cannon against "yellow vest" protesters demanding French President Emmanuel Macron roll back tax hikes on motor fuel https://t.co/NGZTKjMju8 #YellowVests #GiletsJaune pic.twitter.com/gyj8rRNDX1
— AFP news agency (@AFP) November 24, 2018
For more than a week, protesters clad in the fluorescent yellow jackets that all motorists in France must have in their cars have blocked highways across the country with burning barricades and convoys of slow-moving trucks, obstructing access to fuel depots, shopping centres and some factories.
Interior Minister Christophe Castaner accused far-right leader Marine Le Pen of fanning the protests in the capital.
“Ultra-right networks were very mobilized on the Champs Élysées,” he said. There were about 20 people injured on the Champs Élysées, according to police.
‘Interior minister Christophe Castaner denounced protesters from far right whom he called “rebellious”, as rallies turned violent at Eiffel Tower and Champs-Elysees. He also accused Marine Le Pen of encouraging them.’ https://t.co/I6D49uRdkT
— Borzou Daragahi 🖊🗒 (@borzou) November 24, 2018
Challenge for Macron
Last Saturday, nearly 300,000 people took part in the first yellow vest demonstrations countrywide. By early evening on Saturday, more than 106,000 demonstrators were involved in protests across France, according to the ministry.
The unrest is a dilemma for Macron who casts himself as a champion against climate change but has been derided as out of touch with common folk and is fighting a slump in popularity.
While the movement, which has no leader, began as a backlash against higher fuel prices, it has tapped into broader frustration at the sense of a squeeze on household spending power under Macron’s 18-month-old government.
Since coming to power, Macron has seen off trade union and street demonstrations against his changes to the labour rules and overhauled the heavily indebted state rail operator. Foreign investors have largely cheered his pro-business administration.
Domestic problems are the last thing Macron needs with regard to his EU agenda. The French president has nourished hopes that the Brexit crisis could be transformed into an opportunity and boost the much needed EU reform.
On a recent visit to Brussels, he warned that people seem to have forgotten that Le Pen won the European elections in France in 2014, and that her Rassemblement National party is currently leading the European election race. “But I haven’t,” he said.