Thousands of protesters, many clad in high-visibility vests, descended on Paris on Saturday to protest against French President Emmanuel Macron’s plans to increases fuel taxes.
The demonstration led to serious clashes with police, who responded with tear gas, water cannon and stun grenades, the New York Times reported. Smoke was seen rising from part of Paris’ famed Champs Elysee as protesters set cars alight, and French police reported at least 10 injuries, three of them from the security forces.
VIDEO: On a third day of unrest, clashes between “yellow vest” protesters and riot police break out on the Champs-Élysées in Paris pic.twitter.com/WJUjgTPrW7
— AFP news agency (@AFP) December 1, 2018
It is now the third week of major “yellow vest” protests in France, named after the high-visibility outerwear French drivers are required to have in their cars.
Two weeks ago, more than 300,000 demonstrators erected 2,000 barriers and blockades across France, and a week ago 8,000 protesters marched in Paris. While the size of the marches in Paris has dwindled somewhat, the anger driving them has caught the government off guard.
“There is a very deep problem and we won’t be able to address it in the blink of an eye,” French Transport Minister Elisabeth Borne said at a press conference last Monday. “I have been hearing the anger expressed by the Yellow Vests for a long time.”
Ostensibly, the protests are centered around the French government’s plans to raise taxes on gasoline by 12 cents per gallon and 28 cents per gallon for diesel.
Macron claims the tax will help reduce France’s dependence on fossil fuels, but the protests have morphed into a more general demonstration against the middle-classes squeezed standard of living.
“It’s this entire idea of the squeezed middle or the squeezed upper working-class person who feels an entitlement to an ever-increasing standard of living but is something that no politician can deliver,” John Downing, an expert on French politics at the London School of Economics, told NBC News. “This is where we’ve seen disenfranchisement with Sarkozy, with Hollande and now with Macron.”
To make matters more of headache for the French state, the protests are largely grassroots, organized via social media and are not involved with any political party or one of France’s powerful trade unions. This grassroots organization, in turn, has allowed some elements of the far-right to infiltrate the protests, although the extent of their involvement is unclear.
While far-right outlet Breitbart has enthusiastically covered the protests against “globalist poster boy” Macron, Politico also reported that the ministers initially blamed the far-right for the protests, despite the fact that no one arrested at last week’s rally had a far-right background.
The protests have also spilled over into neighboring Belgium, where hundreds of yellow vests blocked the streets of the capital Brussels on Friday calling for the Prime Minister to resign. Police ended up arresting 60 individuals.