French Student Unrest Gathers Momentum
French student protests intensified Tuesday, with various incidents around the country of demonstrators setting buildings on fire, and of violent clashes with police.
Over the course of this week, students have gradually started to get involved in the so-called “yellow vests” protests against President Emmanuel Macron, 40 anni.
Local authorities said that part of the Saint-Exupery high school in Blagnac, near Toulouse in southwest France, had been set on fire Tuesday
There were also clashes in Lyon, Marseille, Bordeaux and the City of Orleans, while schools were blocked in Creteil and Versailles near Paris.
Earlier Tuesday, France’s Prime Minister suspended planned increases to fuel taxes for at least 6 months in response to weeks of sometimes violent protests, in the 1st major U-turn by President Emmanuel Macron’s administration after 18 months in office.
President Macron is now under intense pressure, as protests continue due to economic ills, his party is now seen as part of the establishment it was formed to defeat.
President Macron likes to present himself to the world as a suave centrist who can hold the line against the anger of the fringes.
But the fact is Macron is a politician under siege, at risk of being overwhelmed by a growing rebellion.
President Macron returned to France from this past weekend’s G-20 Summit under duress. For the 3rd weekend running, heated protests had taken place throughout the country, reaching a violent peak in Paris.
Dozens of cars were burned; the debris of barricades lay strewn across famed avenues; clashes between police and protesters blanketed parts of the city with tear gas and broken windows.
At least 260 people were wounded across France, 133 in Paris alone, about 400 were arrested.
The unrest is linked to an inchoate movement known as the “gilets jaunes,” or “yellow vests,” after the reflective jackets French drivers must wear in case of roadside emergencies. The roots of their anger are rising diesel prices and a new gasoline tax, imposed by President Macron as part of France’s climate change commitments.
But the protests are tapping into much deeper frustrations among a segment of the French public.
They have prompted calls for a greater social safety net at a time when France still finds itself in a rut of sluggish growth and high unemployment.
The roots of the protests also lie well outside France’s wealthy urban centers, Frenchmen see the new tax as a particularly harsh blow to their livelihoods.
The cracks that are widening in France, and the postindustrial despair entrenched in the provinces would seem familiar to Americans, Britons and others in Western democracies. So, too the inability of politicians to bridge the divides.
Beyond the gasoline tax, President Macron has struggled to push through an ambitious slate of reforms he claims will unshackle the French economy.
There is widespread resentment about his highhanded governing style and the lingering impression that he is running the country in the interests of a comfortable metropolitan elite.
President Macron’s political enemies have seized on the disturbances.
Jean-Luc Mélenchon, leader of the French far left, likened the atmosphere in France to the heady days of leftist protest half a century ago. “We are in a situation that is almost insurrectional,” Mr. Mélenchon said in an interview with a local network. “These are pages in the history of France comparable to 1968. Everything must be dealt with by having a larger perspective.”
Far-right leader Marine Le Pen, whom the French Interior Minister blames for inciting the violence in Paris, called for the dissolution of the National Assembly and new parliamentary elections. Another right-wing hard-liner associated with the protest movement provocatively urged Mr. Macron to resign in favor of a caretaker government led by a former army General.
The Republic is not about to fall, but the protests highlight how President Macron is being overtaken by the same anti-establishment frustrations that brought him to power as a political outsider.
The friction is over President Macron’s climate agenda.
His ambition is to be a global leader, perhaps the global leader on the subject, as he foolishly took on US President Donald Trump and other politicians discarding the collective efforts to curb emissions. But his focus on global warming has fueled the rage of some yellow vest protesters who realize he is trying to destroy their livelihood in the process of his egotistical ambitions.
The President speaks “about the end of the World,” 1 demonstrator told Le Monde, “we talk about the end of the Month.”
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