It looks like Saturday November 17th is a day to stay off the roads in France if you possibly can as the so-called “yellow vest” protesters aim to demonstrate their anger over rising fuel cost and taxes by blockading roads, bringing traffic all over the country to a standstill.
The protests have come to symbolise a division
between France's governing elite in Paris, namely French President Emmanuel Macron, and the country's rural poor who are the hit hardest by increased prices as they rely heavily on cars to get around.
In a video that went viral a hypnotherapist from Brittany Jacline Mouraud said: “In a democracy, we are the bosses and they [the politicians] are the employees, they should not forget it “.
A map created by the organisers behind the protests which you can view
here shows where in France the disruption is planned and has been viewed 15 million times according to reports in the French press.
And going by the Facebook pages that have been created for some of the individual protests, the scale of the disruption could be massive, with thousands of people promising to attend some of the blockades.
In Dordogne the prefecture is warning motorists to stay off the roads unless it is absolutely necessary. Authorities in the department are also warning protesters that police will be out in force to keep roads open for emergency vehicles.
It called on demonstrators to show “a spirit of responsibility and caution in the actions taken and to avoid any incident.”
But what exactly do the Gilets Jaunes have in store?
Many groups of “yellow vests” have decided to focus on blocking the strategic roundabouts located on the outskirts of cities with trucks and trailers.
That means that access to city centres is expected to be difficult and car traffic could be slowed down considerably, even though the Minister of the Interior, Christophe Castaner, has promised that the police will intervene in cases of “total blockage”.
The French police have the power to “evacuate by force any unauthorized protest that impedes traffic” and offenders could incur up to two years in prison and €4,500 in fines.
Blocking crossroads by… walking
Dozens of protesters are planning to block crossroads by repeatedly walking over the pedestrian crossings.
This is intended as a loophole to make the protests legal because priority is given to pedestrians at these crossings.
One local protest group joked that if anyone is asked what they're doing they should say they're “looking for a job”, referring to Macron's controversial advice to an out of work gardener
who told the president he couldn't find a job, with the French leader replying that he could find him a job simply by “crossing the road”.
Filtered road blocks
According to the groups, in many places the gilets jaunes will set up filtered road blocks, allowing a certain number of cars to pass through every so often.
Even though this is less extreme than the policy of blocking everything which some have mooted, it still doesn't sound like great news for drivers.
For example in the town of Epernay in the Marne department, where the yellow vests initially said they would “block everything” they are now planning filtered road blocks that will allow one car to pass every hour.
Similarly in the northern city of Reims they have said they will block certain roads completely for periods of 20 minutes followed by 10 minutes of letting cars through throughout the day, according to a spokesperson for this group who warned that they could “firm up the blocks as and when”.
Airports, railways, ports
After November 17th some of the national yellow vests organisers have said they are preparing to block airports, borders, ports, railways and refineries so the disruption could last a lot longer than just one day.
Among the airports which have been pinpointed for blockading are Beauvais airport outside Paris, Bordeaux and Toulouse.
On top of that Mont Blanc Tunnel, which links the French Alps with Geneva and Turin is set to be blocked, as well as fuel depots and refineries for example the one at Fos-sur-Mer in southern France.
Organiser Ghislain Coutard said: “We want to block exports, that kind of thing, because we think that Emmanuel Macron will react if Germany and other countries put pressure on him, whereas if it stays only inside [France], he will have nothing to do with it.”
The map below shows where these so-called “strategic blocks” have been planned.
No doubt much to the dismay of anyone with a long journey ahead of them in France this weekend, some of the yellow vest groups are planning go-slow operations on motorways particularly around tolls (peages).
Among the places where this has been planned is around the city of Bordeaux in the south west of France where protesters say they want to block the toll station in Virsac and Pont d'Aquitaine.
Meanwhile outside Antibes on the French Riviera, one of the mobilized groups will launch “a go-slow operation around the toll”.
And around the port city of Caen Normandy, a big operation is planned, consisting of “blocking and filtering traffic at the Dozulé toll.
Even the French capital won't be able to escape the yellow vests.
In fact, one of the most anticipated protests is the go-slow operation planned on the Paris ring road the périphérique , which is expected to be followed by a march in the direction of the Elysée Palace, the official residence of the president.
A giant BBQ
More leisurely protesters might like to go to Sarrebourg in the east of France where a giant BBQ and food trucks will be set up on the N4 (see photo below).
When will they start?
Most of the protests are due to start before 8 am on Saturday November 17th so that they are in place before shops open in a bid to slow down the economy.
Some supermarkets in areas where the protests are expected to be biggest are planning exceptional closures on Saturday to avoid clashes between customers and yellow vests.
Similarly some groups have called on their supporters to limit their consumption of fuel, tobacco and alcohol to stop the government benefiting from the taxes on these products.
And how long will they last?
This is uncertain and plans currently vary from group to group.
For example in some places such as the town of Brignoles in the south east, protesters are planning to block the toll road in the morning but there are no plans for the afternoon and the group's leader has said they will “play it by ear”.
While in other places the yellow vests are planning to stay in place at least until after the shops shut and in some places the protests are set to last as late as midnight.
“The goal is to last, and as long as Macron will not play according to our rules, we will not stop,” yellow vest organiser Christophe Torrent told the French press
What about ambulances?
Organisers have insisted that none of the protests will impede ambulances or other emergency vehicles for which they plan to reserve lanes.
On Wednesday French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said that road blocks “would jeopardize the safety of the French people” and that the government would take the “necessary measures” to prevent this happening.
The Minister of the Interior Christophe Castaner has warned those planning to protest that some may die or be injured during the protests.
“It will not be the State that will be responsible, it will be the person who caused the accident who will have no insurance, because it will not cover someone who has blocked a road.”
However the best-organised protests have appointed security representatives for each blocking point and their responsibility will be to communicate with the local leader of the movement, who will be in direct contact with the authorities.
“Keep in mind that this movement is peaceful, we want a demonstration by the book and not by force,” said the organiser of the Reims protest.
Another organiser Maxime Nicolle said: “Our demonstration is 100 percent pacifist, we will evacuate the troublemakers and we will not hesitate to send them to the CRS (riot police officers).”