French fuel depots targeted as 'yellow vest' protesters persist

Paris (AFP) –


Protesters angry over high fuel prices blocked access to fuel depots and stopped traffic on major roads on Monday after the government refused to back down on fuel taxes after a weekend of demonstrations across France.

More than 400 people were injured during the "yellow vest" protests which began Saturday with nearly 300,000 participants country-wide.

Early Monday, dozens of barricades were still being manned on motorways and roundabouts, but far fewer than the more than 2,000 sites on Saturday and 150 on Sunday.

Other protesters continued to camp out in supermarket parking lots.

"The movement is not exceptional... and obviously isn't as big as on Saturday," Laurent Nunez, junior interior minister, told CNews, adding that police would continue to intervene to ensure major roads are not blocked.

A handful of skirmishes were reported overnight, including in the northern port city of Calais where an Australian truck driver was detained after trying to force his way through a barricade.

A British motorist was also detained trying to break through a barricade in Calais.

The grassroots movement emerged on social media last month over a surge in fuel prices this year, in particular for diesel, which many blame on taxes implemented in recent years as part of France's anti-pollution fight.

It quickly snowballed into a broader protest over stagnant spending power under President Emmanuel Macron.

"I earn 500 euros ($570) a month -- how do you expect me to live on that? With what I earn I can only allow myself one meal a day," said Jean-Luc, a 57-year-old protesting in Calais.

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said Sunday night that the government had heard the anger, but that it would maintain the fuel taxes, which are set to increase again in January.

Last week the government unveiled a 500 million euro package of measures to help low-income households, including energy subsidies and higher scrappage bonuses for the purchase of cleaner vehicles.

But even some lawmakers in Macron's Republic on the Move (LREM) party are urging the government to do more to help ease fuel and energy costs as winter approaches.

"We need to maintain environmental taxes, (Philippe) is right to reiterate this, but we also need more measures to assist the French, especially the middle classes and the less well off," LREM lawmaker Matthieu Orphelin told RFI radio on Monday.