French government’s bid to negotiate with ‘yellow vests’ ends in farce

Attempts by the French Prime Minister to negotiate with the anti-government "yellow vest" movement turned into a fiasco on Friday after just two representatives turned up for a meeting with the PM and one immediately walked out.

French government's bid to negotiate with 'yellow vests' ends in farce
Photo: AFP

Attempts by the French government to negotiate with the “yellow vest” movement responsible for weeks of protests over taxes and the high cost of living turned into a fiasco Friday after just two representatives turned up for a meeting with the prime minister and one immediately walked out.

The failed talks came on the eve of a planned rally in Paris of thousands of demonstrators, one week after a violent protest left the Champs-Elysees in shambles.

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe had invited eight representatives of the protesters, known as “yellow vests” for their wearing of the high-visibility 
yellow jackets which every motorist is required to carry in his car, for the talks in a bid to take heat out of a revolt that has galvanised opposition to President Emmanuel Macron's liberal economic policies.

But only two turned up for the talks at the prime minister's office, with one walking out after being told he could not invite TV cameras in to broadcast the encounter live to the nation.

Asked later by reporters what his demands were, Jason Herbert said: “We want our dignity back and we want to be able to live from our work, which is absolutely not the case today.”

Herbert said the two representatives who had turned up for the meeting had received “physical and verbal threats” from other protesters, some of whom are opposed in principle to having appointed leaders.

Emerging from an hour of talks with the second representative, Philippe said the pair had mainly discussed spending power and that his door “will always remain open” for further dialogue.

One of the difficulties faced by the government in seeking to talk to protesters is that the mainly-spontaneous grassroot movement, organised 
through social media, has steadfastly refused to align with any political party or trade union.

Macron has refused to back down on his anti-pollution taxes, part of his effort to green the economy.

Speaking on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Argentina Friday, he said he understood “the legitimate anger, the impatience and the suffering of some people” and called for more time to organise consultations on how to transform France into a low-carbon economy without penalising the poor.

But he also warned that any measures announced “in the coming weeks and months” would “never be a retreat” on policy.

Two people have died and hundreds have been injured since protesters, mainly in rural and smalltown France, began blocking roads over soaring fuel prices which they blame on Macron's anti-pollution taxes.

The protests quickly snowballed into wider protests over economic hardship and the perceived elitism and urban bias of Macron's government.

On Friday, minister for overseas territories, Annick Girardin, who was on a peace mission of her own to quieten the protests in the Indian Ocean island of Reunion was forced to cut short a meeting with demonstrators after being booed by protesters shouting “Macron, resign!”

Macron's government has announced several measures to try end the unrest, which triggered near riots on the celebrated Champs-Elysees avenue in Paris last Saturday.

But the president's refusal to back down on a planned increase in anti-pollution taxes on fuel set to take effect in January has hardened the resolve of many protesters, including in Reunion, one of the poorest parts of France.

Demonstrators there have blocked roads across the island over the past two weeks, crippling the local economy.

On the mainland, the government is bracing for further possible rioting when demonstrators return to the Champs-Elysees on Saturday to press their demands, which include a moratorium on fuel tax increases, an increase in the minimum wage and a national housing insulation plan.

The government has said it will allow the Champs-Elysees protest, but the avenue will be closed to traffic and protesters searched by police before 
being allowed onto the avenue.

RED ALSO: Paris: Champs-Elysées braces for new 'yellow vest' protest on Saturday

Meanwhile in neighbouring Belgium, anti-riot officers used water cannon Friday to disperse stone-throwing “yellow vest” protesters who burned two police vehicles in the centre of Brussels.

Around 300 people demonstrated near major European Union buildings with some protesters throwing objects including cobblestones and pool table balls, a police spokeswoman said.

After being dispersed by water cannon, protesters set fire to two police vans.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


What happened to the rioters who trashed the Arc de Triomphe during yellow vest violence?

A court in France has finally handed out sentences to some of those involved in the vandalism and theft at the Arc de Triomphe in December 2018 - when 'yellow vest' violence in Paris shocked the world.

What happened to the rioters who trashed the Arc de Triomphe during yellow vest violence?
'Yellow vest' protesters clash with police by the Arc de Triomphe on December 1st 2018 in Paris. Photo: Abdulmonam EASSA / AFP

The French court on Thursday sentenced eight people to suspended jail terms and community service for taking part in one of the most violent episodes of the anti-government ‘yellow vest’ protests that rocked France two years ago.

A total of nine stood trial this week for the incident, but one of them, a former soldier, was cleared for lack of evidence, presiding judge Sonia Lumbroso said at the verdict.

The court ruled the suspects were neither the instigators nor the main culprits of the vandalism and looting around the Arc de Triomphe monument in Paris, when scenes of destruction and fierce clashes with police made global headlines.

Most of them had no criminal records.

They were sentenced to 70 hours of community service for entering the monument, but those also found guilty of stealing items such as postcards, Arc de Triomphe models or miniature Eiffel Towers from the gift shop, were fined €100 for theft.

A ‘yellow vest’ protester arrives at the courthouse in Paris to attend the trial of ten people on charge of destruction and theft around the Arc de Triomphe monument in Paris. Photo: Thomas COEX / AFP

One of the group, a man who was caught on camera trying to break down a door with a fire extinguisher, was handed the most severe sentence, a suspended prison term of eight months.

Dozens of cars were set on fire and businesses trashed all along the celebrated Champs-Elysées avenue on December 1st, 2018, the third Saturday of mass demonstrations against President Emmanuel Macron.

READ ALSO: Macron risks losing support from left against Le Pen in French presidential election

He was accused of ignoring the plight of struggling French families and after months of protests he abandoned a planned fuel tax hike and raised spending on the lowest earners.

The protesters had already skirmished with security forces at earlier rallies, but police were unprepared for the rioting that engulfed the capital just a few weeks before Christmas.

Despite firing volleys of tear gas and rubber bullets, the officers were forced to abandon their positions around the Arc de Triomphe, which honours France’s war dead.

Protesters snuffed out the eternal flame over the tomb of an unknown World War I soldier and spray-painted the stone walls with graffiti including “the yellow vests will triumph”.

Others forced their way inside the arch, ransacking the gift shop and damaging scores of artworks, causing damage that cost €1.2 million to repair.

READ ALSO: Is France’s ‘yellow vest’ movement really on its way back?