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Attempt to turn France’s ‘Nuit Debout’ protest movement global falls flat

Geoffroy Van der Hasselt / AFP | ‘Nuit Debout’ activists at the Place de la République in Paris on Sunday May 15, 2016.

A call for demonstrators to turn out in cities across Europe under the banner of France’s “Nuit Debout” protest movement failed to attract much support Sunday, with only a handful of people taking to the streets.


Organisers of “Nuit Debout” – which loosely translates as “Up All Night” in English – had called for autonomous demonstrations to be held in cities across the world and especially in Europe along shared themes such as migrants, austerity and free trade.

The movement, which has been holding a nightly sit-in at Place de la République in central Paris for more than six weeks, chose May 15 for the protests as a tribute to Spain's anti-austerity "Indignados" movement, which was marking its fifth anniversary in Madrid on the same day.

But although around 1,500 turned out in Paris on Sunday for what organisers' dubbed "Global Debout", few rallies took place elsewhere, and turnout was low in places where they did go ahead.

In the Belgian capital of Brussels around 150 demonstrators took part in a demonstration, while in Berlin “around 100 people” turned out for a protest in the German capital’s Kreuzberg area, according to an estimate by one of the participants.

Even in other cities in France, there was not much sign that those outside of Paris had heard the “Nuit Debout” organisers’ rallying call. Around 200 people gathered outside City Hall in Toulouse, while in Marseille a “Nuit Debout” picnic attracted just 20 people, according to an AFP journalist.

Thousands march on ‘Indignados’ anniversary

It was a sharp contrast to scenes in Madrid, where thousands of people took to the streets to mark the fifth anniversary of the birth of the "Indignados" movement.

Crowds marched through the Spanish capital to the beat of drums, holding banners that read: "Indignados, united or defeated!", "Unemployed on the march!" and "European Union of people, not nations!".

Thousands also gathered in the city's central Puerta del Sol square throughout the day and into the evening, commemorating the weeks that protesters spent occupying the square in the spring of 2011.

"We are here to mark 15-M (May 15). I really lived it, I practically lived in Sol," 55-year-old Asun Lasaosa told AFP. "But this time, it's more of a party."

That year, 21,000 protests took place throughout Spain as people expressed their anger at the economic crisis, government austerity and corruption.

The movement quickly spread beyond Spain, inspiring Occupy Wall Street protests in New York as well as gatherings in other European cities.

It also gave birth in January 2014 to Podemos, a far-left, anti-austerity party that reshaped Spain's traditional political system by sweeping to third place in last year's polls.

Brands targeted

But while the youth-led "Nuit Debout" shares much in common with the “Indignados” movement, it has failed to inspire the same level of international reach as its Spanish forebear.

The "Nuit Debout" movement began on March 31 to protest the French government's proposed labour reforms and has since grown to encompass a range of grievances, from the plight of migrants to tax evasion.

But there are signs the momentum behind the movement is slowing.

The labour reforms which first sparked the protests are being forced through by the Socialist government nonetheless, and recent polls show a fall in public support for "Nuit debout", after weeks of demonstrations marred by vandalism and violence.

Nevertheless, “Nuit Debout” activists announced the launch Sunday of a new initiative dubbed “NOlist” – a global campaign to denounce the most socially irresponsible brands.

The campaign will seek to identify a new brand to target every 15 days to three weeks, with internet users able to vote on which companies should be added to the list, explained one activist.

“We won’t just use online actions [to target brands], but concrete actions too,” another activist told AFP.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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