PARIS – France has been rocked by violence again, anti-government protesters battling police and triggering damage in the heart of Paris and elsewhere. As many as 2,000 people were arrested, a record in the history of France for one day. Some 264 were injured, including 39 police.
This is the fourth week of the protests and follows another weekend of violence which caused over a billion dollars in damages to businesses and others.
It started out as a revolt against a hike in taxes on gasoline and diesel fuel -- hence the yellow vests worn by the activists, standard emergency gear in French cars -- aimed by the French government at dealing with global warming.
It has morphed into a broader attack on high taxes and low wages in France.
“At the end of the day,” Mathilde Poset, one of the yellow vest protesters, reportedly said, “we get the impression that we’re modern slaves.”
But beyond that, the protests are aimed at the person seen as behind France’s troubles today, French President Emmanuel Macron. Voted in overwhelmingly last year to make changes, his reforms are seen by many to benefit the rich, leaving the middle classes and working poor behind.
“It’s not a revolt, it’s a revolution,” political analyst Christian Mallard told us. “They don’t want to keep Macron any more. They want to get rid of him. It’s an uprising against Macron.”
Adding a dangerous and violent punch to the protests are militant left-wing and right-wing activists, including youth from the tough suburbs of Paris and other big cities.
France’s Interior Minister Christophe Castaner had a warning to the protesters that they had created “a monster that was out of control.”
Protesters “don’t want to keep Macron any more. They want to get rid of him. It’s an uprising against Macron.”
And what does President Macron have to say about all of this? So far, very little except for some tweets praising the police forces.
“He’s behaving like a real monarch, he is so aloof,” Mallard observed. And, he added about the protesters, “When the king is wrong, they want to ’kill’ the king,” or remove him from office.
The Élysée Palace has now said Macron will speak to the French on Monday night. His ministers already have spoken out, with Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire saying this is “a crisis of the nation.” Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told President Trump to “leave our nation be.”
That followed some bitter tweets by Trump claiming faulty French environmental policy was behind the anger of the people. Some political analysts, in fact, have drawn comparisons between the populist nature of the latest French revolt and the appeal of Trump.
At the very least, Mallard sees a contrast in the two leaders: “Trump has been winning with the people from the deep part of America and has left the establishment aside. Macron has been winning with the establishment and has left the poor people from rural areas aside.”
With activists already promising more protests next weekend and beyond, it remains to be seen what “King Macron,” as some opponents have called him, could say or do tomorrow to save his leadership.