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POLITICS

Whatever happened to the ‘yellow vests’ in France?

Wednesday marks three years since the first 'yellow vests' protest in France - which began began as a complaint about fuel prices and grew into a social movement that rocked the country, before quietly withering away.

Yellow vest protests in France
A yellow vest demonstration in November 2018. Photo: Xavier Leoty/AFP

Here are some of the key numbers that tell the story of the movement.

17

Saturday, November 17th 2018 marked the first ‘yellow vest’ protest – a day of action sparked by a new fuel tax which protesters said unfairly affected those living in rural areas, who rely on cars because of poor public transport links.

The ‘yellow vests’ by which the movement would become known were worn as a nod to the original members of movement – drivers. The symbolism comes from the fact that French law obliges all motorists to keep a high-vis yellow vest or jacket in their car, in case of a breakdown.

282,000

The huge estimated turnout of the first Saturday protest came as a surprise to politicians, especially since the yellow vest movement was essentially leaderless and had grown largely through social media platforms, particularly Facebook. Although initially focused on fuel taxes it grew into a general protest against the cost of living, especially in rural or small-town France.

Many people outside the cities felt left-behind and forgotten by Paris-based politicians. The early ‘yellow vests’ were often working people who simply could not afford the ever-increasing cost of living, although as the protests grew they began to encompass more and more everyday frustrations of French people.

2

Protests continued weekly on Saturdays, still drawing huge crowds, so in January 2019, after two months of protest, president Emmanuel Macron launched the Grand Débat, a national ‘listening exercise’ that involved thousands of meetings around France, plus an online register where people could list their grievances and demands.

Macron himself took part in several debates, including a meeting with 600 local mayors. The entire exercise lasted for two months.

18th

But still protests continued on Saturdays, with the original ’roundabout’ protests in small towns and rural areas slowly giving way to more organised street demos based in cities.

As the geography changed so too did the profile of the protesters, from being largely rural and apoliticial (many ‘yellow vests’ said they had never before attended a demo) to younger, city-dwellers who had previously been involved with politics and demonstrations and – in the case of the Black Blocs – violence.

It was the 18th week of protests, on March 16th 2019, that really shocked France and the world, as protesters ran amok along the Champs-Elysées, trashing stores in an orgy of arson and vandalism. The violence would ultimately cost the Paris police chief his job, as police were accused of being unprepared and unable to stop the rampage.

After this ‘yellow vest’ protests increasingly became known for violence, especially at the hands of the professional rioters of the ‘Black Bloc’ and this contributed further to the fall in turnout, especially from older people and families who had no wish to get caught up in riots.

8

Once the government realised the scale of the protests, the fuel tax that had sparked the whole thing was quietly scrapped.

But by that time the ‘yellow vest’ demands had grown, encompassing a range of issues from tax cuts to more representative democracy and the immediate resignation of president Emmanuel Macon.

In April 2019, after concluding the Grand Débat, Macron unveiled new proposals. He offered eight main concessions: income tax cuts largely targeted at middle-earners; end of year bonuses for low-paid workers; a boost to pensions for lower earners (although an increased pension age for others); no more school or hospital closures until 2022; more direct democracy such as citizen councils and referendums; a cut in the number of MPs and the abolition of the Ecole Nationale d’Administration (ENA) which was widely seen as a ‘breeding ground for the elite’. He did not offer to resign.

Seven of the protesters who lost eyes during the ‘yellow vest’ protests. Photo: AFP
 

1,200

Police say that 1,200 officers were injured during the months of ‘yellow vest’ protests, but the violence was far from one-sided, with at least 1,900 protesters also hurt.

French police came in for heavy criticism of their actions during demos, particularly their use of the highly controversial ‘flash grenades’ which left dozens of protesters seriously injured – including five people who lost a hand (some after picking up grenades to throw back at police) and 25 who were blinded or lost an eye after being hit with rubber bullets.

One woman also died during protests, an elderly lady in Marseille who was hit by a stray tear gas grenade as she closed the shutters in her apartment.

READ ALSO How the ‘yellow vests’ forced France to have a national conversation about police violence

28,600

By the time of the first anniversary of the protests on November 17th 2019, turnout had fallen dramatically to 28,600 according to the Interior Ministry (or 40,000 according to the organisers) and protests were largely concentrated in cities. At the anniversary protests 254 people were arrested, 173 of them in Paris.

2

Since 2019 the ‘yellow vests’ have continued, but in increasingly tiny numbers with protests largely confined to Paris and a couple of other cities. 

Some of the high profile early ‘leaders’ of the leaderless movement have stepped back from protests, while others stood unsuccessfully in local and European elections.

There have also been attempts to link ‘yellow vest’ protests to other causes, including Extinction Rebellion, the pension reform protests in late 2019 and early 2020 and more recently the anti health pass demonstrations. But ‘yellow vest’ demonstrations have never managed to turn out in large numbers as they did in the movement’s heyday.

Member comments

  1. Uh… lousy, know-nothing, faux media like yourselves – and your one clown columnist Litchfield – misreported on them for months? And failed to care about how they were brutally repressed? And ignore them when they restarted last month after a coronavirus-forced pause?

    What’s sure is that the Yellow Vests don’t look to The Local for objectivity, much less intelligent and fair reporting. Whatever happened to that?

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POLITICS

Newly appointed French Minister faces rape allegations

The final composition of the new French government was announced on Friday. A new investigation suggests that historic rape allegations against a newly appointed minister were ignored.

Newly appointed French Minister faces rape allegations

It didn’t take long for scandal to hit the France’s new government.

An investigation by Mediapart published the day after the final list of ministerial positions was announced revealed that two women have accused one of the appointees of rape. 

READ MORE Who’s who in France’s new government?

Damien Abad, the new Solidarity Minister denies the allegations and a police investigation into one allegation was dropped in 2017. But another could be about to open. 

Who is Damien Abad? 

Damien Abad is a 42-year-old son of a miner from Nimes in southern France who became the first handicapped MP to be elected in 2012. He has arthrogryposis, a rare condition that affects the joints.

Prior to his appointment as the Minister for Solidarity, Autonomy and Disabled People, he was the leader of the France’s right-wing Republicans party in the Assemblée nationale

What are the allegations? 

Two alleged victims, who didn’t know each other, told Mediapart that Abad raped them on separate occasions in 2010 and 2011.

The first woman described meeting Abad for dinner after having met him weeks earlier at a wedding. She said she blacked out after one glass of champagne and woke up in her underwear in a hotel bed with Abad the next morning fearing she had been drugged. 

A second woman who lodged a formal charge against Abad in 2017 said that he harassed her by text message for years. She eventually agreed to meet with him one evening. After initially consenting, she told him to stop – but her plea fell on deaf ears as Abad raped her. 

What does Abad have to say? 

The new minister denies the accusations.

“It is physically impossible for me to commit the acts described,” he told Mediapart – in reference to his disability. 

He admitted to sending “sometimes intimate” messages, but said he had “obviously never drugged anyone”. 

“I was able to have adventures, I stand by my claim that they were always consensual.”

Is he under investigation? 

The second alleged victim made a formal allegation against Abad in 2017. 

A subsequent investigation was dropped later that year after a “lack of sufficient evidence was gathered”.

Mediapart report that Abad’s entourage were not questioned by police and that the MP told investigators that he had no memory of the alleged crime. 

The first alleged victim flagged the abuse to the Observatory of Sexist and Sexual Violence in Politics – an unofficial watchdog monitoring elected bodies – earlier this month. 

The Observatory has since brought the case to the state prosecutor, but it is unclear if another investigation will be launched.  

Who knew? 

The tone deaf appointment of Gérald Darmanin as Interior Minister in 2020 was controversial because at the time he was under investigation for rape. His nomination was met with street protests in Paris and elsewhere. Feminists accused (and continue to accuse) Emmanuel Macron of not taking sexual violence seriously. 

The investigation into Darmanin’s alleged crime has since been dropped.

Some will question whether the naming of Abad shows that lessons have not been learned. 

“Once again a minister  in the government of Emmanuel Macron accused of rape,” said Caroline De Haas, the founder of the #NousToutes feminist movement. 

The Observatory sent a message warning senior party figures in the Republicans and LREM about the allegations on Monday – prior to Abad’s nomination. 

France’s new Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne denied having any knowledge of the warning. 

“I am going to be very clear on all these questions of harassment and sexual violence, there will be no impunity,” she said during a visit to Calvados. 

“If there are new elements, if the courts are summoned, we will accept the consequences.” 

READ MORE Who is Élisabeth Borne, France’s new PM?

The Observatory meanwhile claims it has been ignored. 

“Despite our alerts, Damien Abad who is accused of rape has been named in government. Thoughts and support to the victims,” it tweeted

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