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Keeping up with the 'gilets jaunes': What next for France's yellow vest protests?

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Keeping up with the 'gilets jaunes': What next for France's yellow vest protests?
Photo: AFP
09:47 CET+01:00
After Saturday's protests in the centre of Paris that were marred by "scenes of war", it seems the "gilets jaunes" (yellow vests) are more determined to be heard than ever. Here's what we know about their next moves.
A week of protests culminated in violence on the Champs-Elysées on Saturday when anti-government demonstrators clashed with riot police that left the famous avenue looking like a war zone.
 
While the violence, attributed to extremists both on the left and the right who infiltrated the ranks of the gilets jaunes, marred the movement and prompted much criticism from the government,  it doesn't look like they're ready to quit just yet. 
 
In fact, the gilets jaunes seem to be getting more organised, appointing on Monday eight official spokespeople who have already requested a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron and the French government. Macron likened images of the rioting on the Champs-Elysées to "war scenes".
 
The spokespeople are not "leaders or decision makers" but rather "messengers" who will "engage in serious and necessary contact with representatives of the state and government and facilitate communication between citizen protesters and those coordinating the protests", with the goal of keeping the group "apolitical".  
 
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Photo: AFP

After consulting its supporters on Facebook, the spokespeople have made two main proposals to the government: "lowering all taxes" and the "creation of a citizens' assembly" to discuss the themes of ecological transition to help them make the shift to greener cars and sources of heating more smoothly.
 
However the spokespeople have warned that "a lack of meeting or serious proposals [...] and action will continue and strengthen" while condemning any violence. 
 
On Tuesday morning the French government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux said ministers would not be meeting with the Gilets Jaunes spokespeople "in the current conditions".
 
While the number of filtered road blockades have steadily decreased since the first day of actin on November 17th there were still gilets jaunes staging operations around the country on Monday.
 
The protesters have so far rejected all political affiliation and have won widespread public support.
 
A poll last week showed around 70 percent of people found the protests justified.
 
Another Paris protest on Saturday December 1st?
 
So far, there seem to be plans for another protest to take place in Paris next Saturday, with tens of thousands suggesting they are ready to take part.
 
Thousands of people have said they are 'interested' in an event named "Act 3 - Macron quits" that has been created on a Gilets Jaunes' Facebook page which is set to take place on Saturday, December 1st on the Champs-Elysée.
 
And it isn't only fellow fuel protesters who are ready to take to the streets, with a Facebook event created on Monday that has been set up to invite people from impoverished suburbs in France to join the 'yellow vest' protesters (see tweet below). 
 
 
"I think the French are so fed up, they are so much suffering, that we will return!" protester Melodie Mirandella, who demonstrated on Saturday, told the French press, adding that the gilets jaunes are looking for "concrete answers". 
 
However some mystery surrounds where exactly this call for a fresh protest in Paris came from, with one activist saying that it hadn't come from organisers and spokesman Benjamin Cauchy, who helps organise the Toulouse branch, saying it the call was made by "the far right or the far left".
 
Cauchy also said that no decision regarding a protest on Saturday would be made until Macron had unveiled his much-anticipated measures to take the sting out of rising fuel protests. 
 
Since saying that however Cauchy has left the gilets jaunes due to what he described as a "radicalization that is extremely damaging" and has created his own group instead.
 
"For the moment I am standing aside and I know that hundreds of people want to get away from 'yellow vests'. I invite them to join a movement called the 'Lemons'," he said on BFM on Monday night. 
 
However the movement's future could depend on a big turn out on Saturday.
 
"The movement could well disappear by attrition," Jerome Saint-Marie, head of research agency Pollingvox told AFP.
 
"If next Saturday there are only 50,000 people, it's over," he predicted.
 
Macron, who is set to present his plan for nuclear energy in front of France's National Council for the Ecological Transition (CNTE) which is composed of elected representatives, unions, NGOs and associations on Tuesday, will also take the opportunity to announce measures to appease the "yellow vests", according to an announcement from the Elysee.
 
However as the spokespeople have warned, if what the French leader says doesn't work as an appeasement, there is the possibility that the 'yellow vests' will continue to target strategic spots, such as refineries and ports.
 
On the other hand, the movement seems to be moving away from blocking roads, a method which has divided those taking part.  
 
"There are people who will lose their jobs, there are students who need their CDD (part-time job) at Christmas to pay for their studies," said bus driver and 'yellow vest' Thibaut Veyron who believes the road blocks must stop.
 
"And then there are middle and high school students who always arrive late at school, in the evening they come home at 8 pm instead of returning at 6 pm and in the morning they arrive at 10 am instead of 7:45 am."
 
On Monday the gilets jaunes spokespeople said they could not support "blockading roads completely". 
 
Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said large retailers had suffered a 35 percent drop in revenues on the first day of the protests, and an 18 percent drop on Saturday.
 
He vowed Monday that the government would restore traffic to normal so that "the country can resume its economic activity".
 
"I don't see how Emmanuel Macron can give in without major political costs," Sainte-Marie said.
 
Whatever becomes of the yellow vest movement, he said: "What this movement has given birth to -- this dissatisfaction and anger with government policies and with Emmanuel Macron -- will not go away quickly." 
 
 
 
 
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