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‘Yellow Vests’ turnout low as protesters hit iconic Paris sights

AFP | December 22, 2018.

The 'yellow vest' protests, which have brought particular chaos to Paris over the past few weeks, clearly abated Saturday, as the Christmas holiday season began in earnest.

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Much of France, but particularly Paris, has endured weeks of protest by a nationwide movement that at times descended into violence. Ten people have died since the start of the movement mid-November, mostly in traffic accidents. According to several reports in the French media, a 36-year-old man died Friday night near the southern city of Perpignan after his car slammed into the back of a truck that had stopped near a group of protesters.

The number of protesters demonstrating on Paris' Champs Elysees is down sharply on recent weeks as an appeal for a sixth straight Saturday of protests across France appeared to fall on deaf ears. In a stark contrast to the chaos of previous weekends, tourists strolled down the avenue near the Arc de Triomphe and perhaps the capital’s grandest boulevards remained open for traffic.

‘Macron resign'

A few hundred protesters cordoned by police forces did make their way across Paris toward the Madeleine Church near the Elysee Palace, but were stopped by police in a small adjacent street as some shop owners closed down early.

Outside Paris, around 200 roundabouts remained occupied across the country. In southern France near the Spanish border, hundreds of demonstrators blocked trucks and chanted "Macron, Demission," which translates as "Macron, resign." In central France near Saint-Etienne, protesters blocked a major road and set fires but shops remained open in the city center.

Despite the lower turnout, the protests are still having a knock-on effect.

The palace of Versailles just outside Paris, for example, has been shut for the day after 'yellow vest' protesters said they would hold a demonstration at the famous chateau that was home to succession of French kings until the French Revolution in 1789.

However, only a few protesters wearing their trademark vests showed up at Versailles. A rowdier group of protesters gathered at the foot of the Sacre Coeur Basilica in the north of the city and the at the famous Galeries Lafayette department store in the central shopping district singing La Marseillaise and calling for President Emmanuel Macron's resignation.

Paris' other major tourist hotspots such as the Louvre museum and the Eiffel Tower, which had closed for previous protests, remained open.

Macron backs down

One reason why the heat has been taken out of the protests relates to the concessions made by Macron. He caved in to protesters in a TV address earlier this month by scrapping a fuel tax increase slated for January, a core demand of the protesters, who mainly live in rural areas and smaller towns and rely heavily on their cars. Macron also announced a hike in the minimum wage, tax relief on overtime work and a rollback on taxes for many pensioners. The measures are expected to cost an estimated €10 billion ($1.14 billion).

The protests have hit business confidence and growth, according to the French statistics agency INSEE.

Many retailers have had to close their shops and shutter their windows in the key run-up to Christmas, as protests turned violent.

France is on course to grow only 0.2 percent in the final three months of the year, down from 0.4 percent in the third quarter, INSEE forecast in its quarterly outlook.

As a result, INSEE forecast overall growth of 1.5 percent for France in 2018, down from the previous forecast in October of 1.6 percent and down from a decade-long high of 2.3 percent last year.

(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP and REUTERS)

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