Yellow Vest Protests Continue To Stir Unrest In France

22 hours ago
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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Now to France, where members of the yellow vest movement went into the streets for a fourth day of demonstrations today. Major violence was avoided. But, as NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reports, the movement poses a serious problem for President Emmanuel Macron.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting in French).

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Yellow vest demonstrators chanted, Macron, demission - or Macron, resign - near the Arc de Triomphe. Barely a year and a half ago, people were chanting Macron, president as the exciting young candidate sought the presidency. But things have changed.

Marie Noelle Santier is here with her two young sons, and is wearing a hat from the French Revolution. She says the anger has actually been building for a long time. She came all the way from Brittany to witness what she says is a historic moment.

MARIE NOELLE SANTIER: (Through interpreter) Anger has been rising for 40 years, and now it is exploding. And we have a president who is arrogant and who has pushed us to the limit, abandoning the poor and favoring the rich. What's happening is an insurrection. It's a revolution.

BEARDSLEY: Santier and everyone I've talked to here say they care about the planet, but the burden of saving it cannot be put only on the backs of the poorest.

(SOUNDBITE OF EXPLOSIONS)

BEARDSLEY: Tear gas wafted over the streets as police tried to push protesters down the avenue. There were clashes in several Paris neighborhoods and in other French cities, and cars were set on fire. But the violence was contained. This week, riot police rounded up troublemakers before they could sow chaos. More than 1,300 people have been taken into custody nationwide. Father Gregoire Corneloup, a Catholic priest, came out to the demonstration wearing his clerical robes.

GREGOIRE CORNELOUP: (Speaking through interpreter) I'm here for two reasons - justice and peace. There are profound injustices in France. We have a beautiful country, but there is an increasing gap between rich and poor and between those who live in the cities and those who live in the countryside.

MARTIN: This crowd finds President Emmanuel Macron elitist. They say his cancellation of the gas tax was too little too late. Now they have a list of new demands. Among them are raising the minimum wage and Macron's resignation. Patrice Heubert is not a yellow vest protester but a well-off resident of this upscale neighborhood. He too has brought his 12-year-old son out to see something he says is important.

PATRICE HEUBERT: Yeah, it could be dangerous, but I want to show him what's happening right now in France in the deep population. Just want to - him to sense the febrility that's overwhelming right now in France.

BEARDSLEY: Heubert says only months ago, many thought Macron would change the country when he defeated the unions to overhaul the notoriously rigid French labor laws. But he says Macron has been unable to manage this crisis. When the day's protests were over, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said it was time to end the violence and begin the dialogue. President Macron, who has not been heard from in a week, will address the nation Monday.

Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.