'Yellow vest' protests against Macron snarl traffic across France

Paris (AFP) –


Thousands of drivers blocked roads across France on Saturday in a "yellow vest" movement against high fuel prices which has mushroomed into a widespread protest against stagnant spending power under President Emmanuel Macron.

Around 50,000 people were taking part in more than 1,000 protests at roundabouts and motorway exits, Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said.

"It's much bigger than we expected," said Yves Garrec, a private taxi operator at a roundabout in Toulouse, describing a "good natured" atmosphere among the demonstrators.

Most protests were relatively calm despite the anger expressed by many in interviews and on social media in recent days over the surge in fuel prices this year, in particular for diesel.

But one woman was killed when a mother trying to bring her daughter to the doctor panicked when protesters surrounded their car and began banging on the roof, Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said.

The mother panicked and suddenly ploughed into the crowd in Pont-de-Beauvoisin, southeast France, hitting a woman in her 50s.

Castaner said a handful of other injuries had been reported in other areas, including a police officer in the southern city of Grasse outside Nice, by drivers trying to force a way through the blockades.

"We're on maximum alert," he said, reiterating that police would ensure that no roads were completely blocked in order to ensure people's safety.

In Paris, a group of some 50 protesters were yelling "Macron resign!" on the Champs Elysee, though police were stopping them from heading toward the nearby Elysee Palace, the president's residence.

- 'President of the rich' -

The movement enjoys much broader support than other protests since Macron swept to power last year, with 73 percent of respondents backing the protests in an Elabe poll this week.

Named for the high-visibility jackets worn by the protesters, the "yellow vests" say they are being squeezed by years of fuel tax increases that have driven prices to levels not seen since the early 2000s.

But analysts say the movement now represents more widespread frustration over stagnant spending power under Macron, a former investment banker who promised economic revival and to restore people's trust in government.

The protests also reflect longstanding anger among many in rural and small-town France who say the government in Paris doesn't understand the challenges facing the vast majority of the French.

"Macron is the president of the rich and not the poor. He needs to think about the poor as well," said Andre, a 38-year-old with no driver's license who nonetheless joined a blockade in Dole, eastern France.

Opposition parties and labour unions have voiced support for the demonstration but most have not joined, wary of being seen alongside officials from the National Rally and other far-right groups.

The government announced last week a series of measures to quell the anger, including energy subsidies and higher scrappage bonuses towards cleaner vehicles.

And in a TV interview this week Macron admitted that he had "not succeeded in reconciling the French with their leaders" and "we have probably not given them enough consideration."

But he said he would not rescind the fuel tax increases, which are set to rise again in January.