Sunday 15 September 2019

Hundreds hurt as roads across France blocked in fuel protests

Chaos: Protesters with a sign reading 'Free toll' after they opened toll gates in Antibes, France. Photo: Claude Paris/AP
Chaos: Protesters with a sign reading 'Free toll' after they opened toll gates in Antibes, France. Photo: Claude Paris/AP

Rory Mulholland

France's "yellow vest" protesters blocked oil depots and roads across the country for a third day in a revolt against fuel price rises that has seen motorists subjected to racist and homophobic attacks and hundreds injured.

President Emmanuel Macron showed no sign that he planned to back down over diesel and petrol price rises due in January, which are part of his government's plans to try and wean the French off fossil fuels.

A handful of skirmishes were reported on Sunday, including in Calais where a British and an Australian truck driver were detained after trying to force their way through barricades. Both were reported to have been released a few hours after the incident, which left three people with minor injuries.

Around 13,000 people were manning more than 300 barricades on motorways and roundabouts and other sites yesterday, according to police.

That was far fewer than the 280,000 who turned out on Saturday for the first day of the protests, which are named after the hi-vis vests that French motorists are legally obliged to carry in their vehicles.

But it was still enough to rattle the government, and Edouard Philippe, the prime minster, said that his administration would maintain its plans but acknowledged the "suffering" expressed by protesters.

"A government that always changes its stance, zigzagging through difficulties... would not lead France in the right direction," he told France 2. "We heard anger but also heard suffering, the lack of prospects, the idea that the authorities for a long time did not respond to the concerns, and feeling of abandonment," he said.

A call by a member of the right-wing Debout La France party told protesters to descend on Paris and "block" the city has been viewed over 165,000 times on Facebook.

The grassroots movement emerged on social media last month over fuel rises and snowballed into a broader protest over stagnant spending power under Mr Macron, who is seen by many as the "president of the rich" who neglects rural and small-town French.

The "yellow vest" protests had left more than 400 people injured by Sunday evening, official figures said, with numerous incidents of protesters being hit by panicked drivers at blockades - one woman was killed in such an incident - and a handful of police and firefighters injured. There were reports of more injuries across the country yesterday.

Reports also emerged from many different parts of the country of protesters making racist, homophobic or Islamophobic insults to motorists.

A local elected official in the eastern town of Bourg-en-Bresse and his partner were assaulted and had their car smashed up in a homophobic attack. "I heard some of the protesters say 'I recognise him, he's a queer'," Raphael Duret told a local newspaper, adding that he and his partner were punched and kicked and pulled out of their car.

Irish Independent

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