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French fuel depots targeted as ‘yellow vest’ protests persist

French fuel depots targeted- AFP

The “Yellow Vest” movement is named after the high-visibility vests motorists are required to carry in their cars

Protesters angry over high fuel prices were expected to block access to French fuel depots and stop traffic on major roads for a fourth day Tuesday, incensed by the government’s refusal to scrap anti-pollution taxes.

One person was accidentally killed and 528 people have been injured, 17 seriously, during the “Yellow Vest” protests that have galvanised resistance to President Emmanuel Macron’s economic policies.

As the protests rumbled on, it emerged four men were taken into custody and charged as part of an anti-terrorist investigation in the southeastern city of Saint-Etienne on Saturday — the first day of the blockades — accused of planning to take advantage of the police mobilisation for the demonstrations to mount a terror attack, according to Le Parisien newspaper.

One of the suspects texted his fiancee saying, “It’s going to bleed on November 17”, the newspaper said. Officials were not immediately available to comment on the report.

On Monday, tens of thousands of demonstrators were still manning hundreds of barricades on motorways and petrol stations, down from nearly 300,000 protesters at over 2,000 sites on Saturday.

Oil giant Total confirmed that some of its trucks had been prevented from reaching depots in the south and east of the country, causing alarm among small business owners.

As the protests rumbled on, it emerged four men were taken into custody and charged as part of an anti-terrorist investigation in the southeastern city of Saint-Etienne on Saturday — the first day of the blockades — accused of planning to take advantage of the police mobilisation for the demonstrations to mount a terror attack, according to Le Parisien newspaper.

One of the suspects texted his fiancee saying, “It’s going to bleed on November 17”, the newspaper said. Officials were not immediately available to comment on the report.

On Monday, tens of thousands of demonstrators were still manning hundreds of barricades on motorways and petrol stations, down from nearly 300,000 protesters at over 2,000 sites on Saturday.

Oil giant Total confirmed that some of its trucks had been prevented from reaching depots in the south and east of the country, causing alarm among small business owners.

“The worst thing would be to block the economy and make the whole situation worse,” Alain Griset, head of the U2P federation of small and medium-sized businesses said in a statement.

On Monday, security forces cleared protesters from several sites, including a suspension bridge leading to the southwestern city of Bordeaux that had been blocked for three days.

‘Much more than fuel’ –

The “Yellow Vest” movement — named after the high-visibility vests motorists are required to carry in their cars — was sparked by rising diesel prices, which many blame on taxes implemented in recent years as part of France’s anti-pollution fight.

It quickly snowballed into a protest by rural and small-town France over falling spending power of the less well-off under Macron, assailed as a “president of the rich”.

“It’s about much more than fuel. They (the government) have left us with nothing,” Dominique, a 50-year-old unemployed technician told AFP at a roadblock in the town of Martigues, near the southern city of Marseille.

Macron’s government, which is trying to buff its environmental credentials, has vowed not to back down on trying to wean people off their cars through fuel taxes.

While the number of protesters has fallen since the weekend, in tandem with plummeting temperatures, further large-scale demonstrations are planned.

Two separate calls for mass protests in Paris on November 24 were widely circulated on social media.

The start of the protests was marred by the death of a 63-year-old demonstrator, who was run down by a panicked motorist at a roadblock in the eastern Savoie region.

Several other people were injured in attempts by truck drivers and motorists to force their way through barricades.

A 32-year-old man was sentenced to four months in prison Monday for endangering life by taking part in a human chain on a highway in the northeast of France.

– Government stands firm –

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said Sunday night that the government had heard the protesters’ anger but would not change course.

Last week, he unveiled a 500-million-euro package of measures to help low-income households, including energy subsidies and higher scrappage bonuses for the purchase of cleaner vehicles.

But the measures have failed to appease anger over Macron’s tax policies, seen as favouring the rich over the working and lower-middle classes.

“I earn 500 euros ($570) a month — how do you expect me to live on that? With what I earn I can only allow myself one meal a day,” said Jean-Luc, a 57-year-old protesting in Calais.

Even some lawmakers in Macron’s Republic on the Move (LREM) party are urging the government to do more to help ease fuel and energy costs as winter approaches.

AFP

 20/11/2018

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