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YELLOW VEST

French president to unveil long-awaited response to ‘yellow vest’ complaints

France's government will today lay out its response to the grievances highlighted by the 'yellow vests' over months of protests.

French president to unveil long-awaited response to 'yellow vest' complaints
A protester holds up a banner reading 'Macron, we expect nothing from your announcement'. Photo: AFP

President Emmanuel Macron will give a speech on Monday evening setting out the “first concrete measures” to be taken in response to the grievances aired at over 10,000 townhall-style meetings between January and March or posted online, the presidency told AFP.

One of Macron's aides told AFP that the country could look forward to “a new act” in his nearly-two-year-old presidency, marked by “profound changes” aimed at drawing the line under five months of often violent anti-government protests.

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President Macron is expected to unveil a series of 'concrete measures' in response to yellow vest protests. Photo: AFP

The task of trying to satisfy the many, sometimes competing demands emanating from the “Grand National Debate” will be a tricky one for the 41-year-old leader, whose reform drive was abruptly knocked off course by the yellow vests.

Summing up the weight of anticipation on Macron's shoulders Senate leader Gerard Larcher, a member of the opposition Republicans, told Le Figaro newspaper on Saturday: “He won't get a second chance.”

The yellow vest movement, so called for the fluorescent jackets worn by demonstrators, began in rural and small-town France over fuel taxes and quickly snowballed into a broader anti-capitalist, anti-establishment rebellion.

In January, Macron launched a series of debates to try to take the heat out of the protests.

Between January 15 and March 15, nearly 500,000 people took part in 10,134 meetings in community halls across the country, with hundreds of thousands more filling out questionnaires or offering up unprompted suggestions on the official debate website.

Macron, who criss-crossed the country to engage local mayors and residents in marathon discussions, promised the French at the outset of the process to “transform anger into solutions” afterwards.

But as they returned to the streets of Paris and other cities Saturday for their 22nd straight week of protests, many yellow vests dismissed whatever he had to offer.

“Great National Debate, great blah blah,” and “Macron, we expect nothing from your announcements” read some of the banners waved by protestors in Paris.

Interior ministry figures put the number of demonstrators at 31,000 on Saturday, a far cry from the 282,000 that took part in the first edition, but up from 22,300 a week before.

Former investment banker Macron was caught off guard when many first-time protesters began occupying roundabouts in mid-November to protest policies widely seen as tilted towards the rich and big business.

Admitting to failures, he unveiled a €10 billion package of tax cuts and income top-ups for the working poor and pensioners and travelled into the rural heartland to try to reconnect with voters.

But most yellow vests boycotted the consultations, accusing Macron of prejudging the outcome by taking their top demands — including the return of a popular “solidarity tax” on the rich which he cut and citizen-sponsored referendums — off the table from the outset.

Young people also were markedly absent from the process.

Warming up for Macron this week, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe declared nonetheless that France had spoken.

The debate, he said, had shown up “enormous exasperation” over the country's tax burden, the highest in the world, according to the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, with taxes equivalent to 46.2 percent of gross domestic product (GDP).

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PROTESTS

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?

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