The Hindu explains: Why are riots happening in France?

Teargas surrounds protesters as they clash with riot police during a 'Yellow Vest' demonstration near the Arc de Triomphe on December 1, 2018 in Paris, France.   | Photo Credit: Getty Images

Over 400 people have been arrested, hundreds injured, and numerous cars and buildings have been set on fire by protesters. Iconic sites and statues, including the war memorial at the top of the famous Champs Elysees avenue, have been vandalised. 

At least three people have died as a result of the riots, according to AFP. There have been talks of imposing a state of emergency if the situation does not improve.

How did this happen?

The trigger to the unrest, which began on November 17, was the 'eco-tax', a fuel tax hike imposed with the intention of cutting carbon emission to help transition the country into a low-emission economy. However, as word spread on social media, the protests grew to accommodate those unhappy with President Emmanuel Macron’s economic reforms and the high cost of living. The activists, dressed in yellow vests (referred to as “gilets jaunes”) took to the streets to voice their displeasure. The yellow vests get their name from the high-visibility jackets all motorists in France are obliged to carry with them. 

Things soon spiraled out of control as numbers swelled and protesters turned violent, taking the police by surprise. The angry mob threw projectiles at riot officers, burned cars and smashed shop fronts. They also defaced the facade of the towering 19th-century Arc de Triomphe with the message: “The yellow vests will triumph.”

Where are the protests?

The bulk of the riots are concentrated in Paris, but it is also spread across cities and towns in France — from Charleville Mezieres in the northeast to Marseille in the south. Riviera city in Nice, the town of Puy-en-Velay are among the places affected. Since the movement depends on social media to spread the word, protests are cropping up in numerous small towns which have been hit hard by the hike as they are already lacking in public amenities and depend on personal vehicles for transportation.

The protests are expected to continue every weekend, which is especially worrying since December is a busy month in Paris with  tourists and Christmas shoppers visiting in large numbers.  

What is the government doing about it?

President Emmanuel Macron had called crisis meetings to contain the situation, and has decided to engage with anti-government activists. However, since this is a grass root movement, there is little clarity as to who the leaders are and how the negotiations should proceed. According to AFP, Environment Minister Francois de Rugy met representatives of the “yellow vest” protesters last week but failed to convince them to end the demonstrations.

Meanwhile, Jacline Mouraud, one of the protest movement's prime instigators over social media forums, told AFP that scrapping the fuel tax was a “prerequisite for any discussion” with the government, a point which the government is unwilling to negotiate. 

“We have said that we won't change course. Because the course is good,” a government spokesperson said to BFM television. President Macron too insists that the taxes are necessary to fund France's transition to a low-emission economy and effectively  combat climate change. 

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Printable version | Apr 10, 2021 4:09:00 PM |

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