Unconvinced by Macron's promises, Yellow Vests keep up the pressure
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Tens of thousands of Yellow Vest protesters took to the streets for a 24th consecutive Saturday, with many saying the proposals French President Emmanuel Macron announced this week don't go far enough to address the plight of struggling workers.
But the protesters have already made clear the measures don't go far enough.
French police fired tear gas to push back protesters who tried to march towards the European Parliament building in the eastern city of Strasbourg. Protests in Paris remained generally peaceful.
"The Yellow Vest movement has to keep going," said Thierry-Paul Valette, co-founder of Yellow Vest Citizens, saying Macron had "missed a crucial opportunity" to meet with those who have been protesting since mid-November.
"From our five months of demonstrations, he learned nothing ... He didn't provide any political answers."
The protesters criticise Macron for allegedly favouring the wealthy and are demanding wage and pension increases.
The Paris march was organised by the militant CGT union and was joined by senior figures from the left wing, including Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the leader of the France Unbowed party and one of Macron's most vocal critics.
The interior ministry estimated that 23,600 demonstrators had mobilised by 7pm local time on Saturday across the country (2,600 of them on the streets of Paris) compared with 27,900 a week earlier. It was the second-lowest turnout since the protests started in November.
The demonstrators estimated their own numbers at 60,000 this week compared to 98,000 the week before.
Macron delivered a much-anticipated speech on Thursday following the "Great National Debate" he launched at the start of the year in a bid to quell Yellow Vest anger. The president promised a new round of tax cuts worth €5 billion ($5.5 billion) that would affect 15 million people as part of a raft of measures in reponse to five months of street protests.
Macron's plans were an attempt to meet some of the demands of the protesters who have shaken his presidency. The cuts would be funded by axing corporate tax breaks, reducing public spending and introducing longer working hours, the government said.
Finance and Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire promised the cuts would not be funded by government borrowing, in an interview with LCI news channel on Friday.
"We are not going to let the deficit expand," he said. "We are not going to let the public debt expand."
Le Maire suggested there would be a "softening" of the lowest bracket of income tax – which is set at 14 percent – saying the current level was "too brutal".
The tax cuts will be introduced in January 2020.
Interior Minister Christophe Castaner stressed that Macron's measures were a response to "the country, not 30,000 demonstrators".
The number of protesters have dwindled from highs of more than 300,000 nationwide in November to around 30,000 over the past weeks, according to government estimates.
Macron also announced he would scrap the École Nationale d’Administration, the training ground for the country’s ruling elite. Known as ENA, it was founded in 1945 by former leader Charles de Gaulle to train postwar administrators drawn from across all social classes but has been criticised in recent decades for failing to recruit more students from poorer backgrounds.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and REUTERS)