Paris, France, Nov 17 – A protester was accidently killed and more than 220 injured as tens of thousands of people blocked roads across France in a “yellow vest” protest against high fuel prices, which has channelled anger at stagnant spending under President Emmanuel Macron.
Nearly 283,000 people were estimated to have taken part in more than 2,000 protests at roundabouts and on major highways and thoroughfares across the country on Saturday, the Interior Ministry said.
Some 227 people were injured — seven seriously, including a police officer — and 117 detained, with 73 then taken into police custody.
Although most of the blockades were carried out without incident, tempers flared at times as some drivers confronted the protesters or tried to force their way through.
In the eastern Savoie region, a 63-year-old woman was killed when a mother trying to take her daughter to see a doctor panicked after protesters surrounded their car, and suddenly accelerated into the crowd.
The driver, who police said was in a state of shock, was taken in for questioning.
Among those injured were a police officer in the Mediterranean city of Grasse, one in eastern Strasbourg and two in northwestern Quimper.
“This is what we were worried about… unorganised demonstrations by people who aren’t necessarily used to such things,” Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said in a statement.
– ‘Macron resign!’ –
In Paris, several hundred protesters yelling “Macron resign!” and singing La Marseillaise massed on the Champs-Elysees and the Place de la Concorde, hoping to march toward the Elysee Palace, Macron’s official residence.
Riot police blocked their path, but several hundreds managed to get around them using side streets and get close to the Elysee Palace in the afternoon before being driven back by tear gas. They later mostly dispersed without incident.
Officials had warned that police would intervene to ensure no roads were completely blocked.
Some demonstrators announced they intended to camp out overnight and might continue the protest into Sunday.
The “yellow vests” movement, named for the high-visibility jackets worn by supporters, erupted on social media last month with calls for blockades of roads and highways.
The protesters 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 against Macron, a former investment banker who has pushed through a series of reforms aimed at bolstering economic growth.
“We’re showing that the French do not support their government’s policies,” said Franck Deroo, a 47-year-old electrician at a blockade on a highway near the Belgian border in Neuville-en-Ferrain, northern France.
The popularity of French President Emmanuel Macron has dropped to just 25 percent, according to a poll by research group Ifop published on Sunday in the Journal du Dimanche.
– ‘President of the rich’ –
The movement enjoys much more public support than others against Macron since he swept to the presidency last year.
An Elabe poll last week found that 73 percent of respondents backed the movement.
Protesters say he is neglecting the lower and middle classes, pointing to tax cuts for high earners and companies.
“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 who joined a blockade in Dole, eastern France.
The government last week announced a series of measures to try to quell the anger over fuel prices, including energy subsidies and higher bonuses towards cleaner vehicles.
In a TV interview this week, Macron admitted he had “not succeeded in reconciling the French with their leaders” and that “we have probably not given them enough consideration”.
But he said he would not rescind increases on fuel tax — set to rise again in January.
Ecology minister Francois de Rugy confirmed the government’s commitment to the policy Sunday, telling Le Parisien that France needed to get itself out of the “trap” of fossil fuel reliance.
“We want to work, but not for nothing,” said Joffrey Gouillet, 27, a protester in Pont-de-Beauvoisin.
“The goal isn’t to create havoc but to get our rights back. You can’t make it to the end of the month even with two salaries.”