French fuel depots targeted as 'yellow vest' protesters persist

AFP , Monday 19 Nov 2018

French fuel
Yellow Vests (Gilets jaunes) wave a French flag as they block the road during a demonstration against the rising of the fuel and oil prices on November 19, 2018 (Photo: AFP)

Protesters angry over high fuel prices blocked access to fuel depots and stopped traffic on major roads on Monday with the government refusing to back down on fuel taxes after a weekend of demonstrations across France.

One person was accidentally killed and more than 400 people injured during the "yellow vest" protests which began Saturday with nearly 300,000 participants nationwide.

Early Monday, dozens of barricades were still being manned on motorways and roundabouts, far fewer than the more than 2,000 sites on Saturday.

Around 200 trucks were backed up along a road leading to a fuel depot in the western city of Rennes, where some protesters had camped out overnight, an AFP reporter said.

Others continued to camp out in supermarket parking lots.

"The movement is not exceptional... and obviously isn't as big as on Saturday," Laurent Nunez, junior interior minister, told CNews, adding that police would continue to intervene to ensure major roads are not blocked.

But further large-scale protests are already being planned.

A call by a member of the rightwing Debout La France (Stand Up France) party for protesters to descend on Paris on Saturday and "block" the city has been viewed over 165,000 times on Facebook.

Another Facebook page calling for a mass rally on Saturday in Paris "because there is where the government is!!!" had also garnered widespread interest.

The government has warned that the anarchic nature of the roadblocks threatens the safety of both demonstrators and drivers.

A 63-year-old demonstrator was run down Saturday by a panicked motorist at a roadblock in the eastern Savoie region.

A handful of skirmishes were also reported on Sunday night, including in the northern port city of Calais where an Australian truck driver and a British motorist were detained after trying to force their way through a barricade.

The grassroots movement emerged on social media last month over a surge in fuel prices this year, in particular for diesel, which many blame on taxes implemented in recent years as part of France's anti-pollution fight.

Gov't Stands Firm 

It quickly snowballed into a broader protest over stagnant spending power under President Emmanuel Macron.

"I earn 500 euros ($570) a month -- how do you expect me to live on that? With what I earn I can only allow myself one meal a day," said Jean-Luc, a 57-year-old protesting in Calais.

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said Sunday night that the government had heard the anger, but that it would maintain the fuel taxes, which are set to increase again in January.

Last week the government unveiled a 500 million euro package of measures to help low-income households, including energy subsidies and higher scrappage bonuses for the purchase of cleaner vehicles.

But even some lawmakers in Macron's Republic on the Move (LREM) party are urging the government to do more to help ease fuel and energy costs as winter approaches.

"We need to maintain environmental taxes, (Philippe) is right to reiterate this, but we also need more measures to assist the French, especially the middle classes and the less well off," LREM lawmaker Matthieu Orphelin told RFI radio on Monday.

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