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In Paris, Protests Over Gasoline Tax Hike Turn Violent

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

There was violence in the streets of Paris today as police clashed with protesters on the city's iconic Champs-Elysees. The protesters are part of a week-old grassroots movement against President Emmanuel Macron's plans to raise gas taxes in order to finance the country's transition to cleaner energy sources. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reports the protesters pose an unexpected political threat to the French president.

(SOUNDBITE OF BANG)

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Police fired tear gas and even shot water cannons as they tried to clear groups of men throwing rocks and bottles. But most of the gilets jaunes, or yellow vest protesters, were peaceful. Young professional Alexandre Gentil says he's never demonstrated before, but he says yet another tax on gasoline that already costs more than $6 a gallon is just too much.

ALEXANDRE GENTIL: I think a lot of people are really, really angry, and now it's time to defend our interests and our life because, like me, I work every day, and I can't really live with my salary.

BEARDSLEY: Unlike other French protest movements, the yellow vest movement has no leader or union backing. They're just regular people from all walks of life. What unites them are the yellow safety vests every French motorist keeps in his car and deep-seated anger at a president they say has no inkling about the everyday concerns of people. Locksmith Stephane Mercier says he voted for Macron a year and a half ago.

STEFANE MERCIER: (Speaking in French).

BEARDSLEY: "He has to withdraw this tax and give people their money back," says Mercier. "We took a chance on him because he gave us very high hopes, but we didn't vote for this." The French interior minister blamed far-right hooligans for the violence. Radical groups often infiltrate otherwise peaceful demonstrations in France. And, while the protests on the Champs-Elysees got all the media attention, there were 1,600 demonstrations nationwide with more than 100,000 participants. After ignoring the yellow vest movement for the last week, it looks like President Macron will have to pay them some attention.

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


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