Wednesday 18 September 2019

Paris fired up over fuel tax

FANNING FLAMES: Demonstrators stand in front of a fire of furniture during a protest against rising oil prices and living costs near the Arc de Triomphe on the Champs Elysees in Paris yesterday. Photo: Getty
FANNING FLAMES: Demonstrators stand in front of a fire of furniture during a protest against rising oil prices and living costs near the Arc de Triomphe on the Champs Elysees in Paris yesterday. Photo: Getty

Rioting broke out in Paris and spread onto the leafy boulevard of the Champs-Elysees yesterday, as police fired tear gas and water cannon at thousands of demonstrators protesting against fuel tax increases and French President Emmanuel Macron's economic reforms.

The base of the Arc de Triomphe was obscured by clouds of tear gas while "yellow vest" demonstrators set fire to a trailer and barricades on Paris's most famous avenue. They chanted "Macron demission!" (Macron resign) and some sang the U2 song Sunday Bloody Sunday.

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The "yellow vests" - so-called because they wear high-visibility jackets - are part of a movement that began as a fuel tax revolt but now encompasses broader grievances about the high cost of living. The force and nature of the grassroots protests have led some commentators to warn that President Macron is facing a "Marie Antoinette moment" as his approval ratings tumble.

Christophe Castaner, the interior minister, accused Marine Le Pen, the far-Right leader, of encouraging her supporters to clash with police. "The ultra-Right is mobilised and is building barricades on the Champs-Elysees," he said.

Le Pen, who has backed the protests, said: "I never called for any violence."

Castaner blamed the clashes on a minority of "casseurs" (troublemakers) who hurled rocks and bottles at police, while most of the protesters demonstrated peacefully.

"We know there are ultra-right and ultra-left infiltrators. You can also expect gangs from the suburbs and 'black-blocks'," said a police union boss, referring to a militant protest force.

The authorities said about 8,000 people took to the streets of Paris. Some 3,000 police were deployed in the capital.

President Macron has justified the tax increases, which have caused diesel prices to go up by 23pc in 12 months, as an anti-pollution measure. Petrol currently costs €1.60 in France. Diesel costs €1.48 a litre.

Only about a third of Parisians own cars, but price rises have provoked fury in rural areas less well served by public transport.

Across France, the demonstrations attracted less support than similar protests last weekend, when roads and were blocked by more than a quarter of a million "yellow vests". The interior ministry said 81,000 protesters joined demonstrations yesterday.

The unrest represents a challenge for the beleaguered centrist president, whose approval ratings have fallen below 30pc. Polls suggest that more than three-quarters of French people sympathise with the protests.

©Telegraph

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