Protests In France Continue Despite Cancellation Of Fuel Tax

Dec 8, 2018
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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Protesters are in the streets of Paris again today and other cities. In Brussels, yellow vest protesters are calling for the resignation of Belgium's prime minister. Police there have scuffled with protesters trying to break through barricades around the European Parliament and the European Union. And in Paris, French riot police have fired tear gas as they clashed with yellow-vested protesters. The grassroots protest movement in France has rejected President Emmanuel Macron's concession to drop the gas tax. They say that's not enough. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley is in the streets of Paris. Eleanor, thanks for being with us.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Hi, Scott.

SIMON: And what can you see? What's happening?

BEARDSLEY: Well, Scott, I'm right near the Arc de Triomphe, which was where there was huge fighting last week in a street just over from the Champ-Elysees. I can hear tear gas being fired nonstop. There's sort of been, you know, running battles in the street in some parts of the city. The police are trying to clear, you know, streets, and the crowds are pushing back. It's just - the smell of tear gas is very, very tense. The city - the country doesn't want to see what they saw last week, these rioting, so there's 8,000 police on the ground in Paris. That's double the number of last week. There's armored vehicles. And there's a new strategy for the police - they are arresting and removing potential troublemakers right away. So for example, if they find a gas mask in your bag, they're going to arrest you and take you into custody. There's already 500 people in custody right now.

SIMON: Eleanor, what do protesters tell you? They called - they protested President Macron's gas tax. And then he says he'll drop it. And they say that's not enough. Why is that?

BEARDSLEY: Yeah. Well, they said it's too little too late. They think he's very arrogant and far removed from the concerns, the struggles of working people. I'll just give you an example, Scott. When he first - he said there's no question we're going to back down. We're going to keep this tax, but I'll give you 100 euros back if you buy energy-efficient windows. Those can cost tens of thousands of euros. I mean, that's a joke. People can't even afford the gas for their cars. So they say he just has no clue. And now they have a whole list of new demands. They want the minimum wage raised. They even want him to resign.

SIMON: How do you believe the French government is going to confront not just these protests we see in the streets but, for that matter, what seems to be the development of a whole new and powerful political movement?

BEARDSLEY: Yeah, Scott. Well, first of all, everyone agrees that the violence has to stop. These weekly protests, which give an excuse for these, you know, extremist groups to come out and wreak havoc, they've got to stop. And then, you know, people are going to have to sit down, there's going to have to be dialogue, you know, the citizens councils that the yellow vest people want all over the country. And you know, but Scott, it's worrisome because people are talking about revolution. They say, you know, there's only 31,000 people out in all of France. But they represent something very deep and very widespread. You know, 18 months ago, people were saying Macron president. They're now saying Macron resign. And he's got a big - he's very out of touch with the heartland, the French heartland. And he's got a problem with that. He's got to fix that.

SIMON: Eleanor Beardsley on the streets of Paris, where we can hear noises and disturbances even now. Eleanor, thanks so much.

BEARDSLEY: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.