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France's social anger endures despite Macron's U-turn

Xinhua | Updated: 2018-12-09 00:41

Yellow Vests protesters walk down the Champs Elysees avenue to Place de la Concorde during a demonstration in Paris, France, 08 December 2018. [Photo/IC]

PARIS - Thousands of people marched again through French cities on Saturday to express their anger over President Emmanuel Macron's leadership which, according to them, aims to court big business and squeeze revenue of lowest-paid workers.

In the fourth weekend of protest, 31,000 people took to the streets across French cities by midday and in Paris, 8,000 demonstrators were numbered, although the turnout is lower than a previous action, according to the Interior Ministry. Last Saturday, the figure was put at 36,000 at the same time.

After a relatively calm debut, first scuffles broke out at around 10:30 local time (09:30 GMT) in Arsene Houssaye street, near the Place de L'Etoile where police officers fired tear gas to disperse the crowd who tried to force police blockade.

Tension flared, hours later, in Les Grands Boulevards where a group of hooded men formed barricades, set bins on fire and smashed shops.

Police fired tear gas and used water cannon to push back the rioters. Armored vehicles were also deployed for the first time in the capital since Paris suburbs riot in 2005.

Violence erupted also in adjacent Parisian streets where several vehicles were torched. Police said 30 people were wounded, among them three police officers.

Meanwhile, peaceful protests were reported in French regions where "Yellow Vests" blocked motorways and access to shopping centers.

As part of "exceptional" security plan, the government has poured 89,000 security forces into French cities. In Paris, 8,000 officers have been charged to ensure the security of people and properties in a bid to avoid last Saturday's rioting that plunged the French capital into its worst unrest in decades.

By 15:23 local time (14:23 GMT), 615 individuals have already been detained in Paris, with 508 remained in custody. They are suspected of hijacking the protest to commit violent acts after police found in their bags hammers, baseball bats and metal petanque balls that could be used as weapons.

Created on social media, "Yellow Vests" spontaneous movement, referring the high visibility vests drivers keep in their cars, has lured people of all ages and backgrounds.

With no leader, it had turned into a bigger uprising denouncing a squeeze on household spending, high living costs caused by Macron's fiscal and economic policy which they say favors the rich. Some of them asked Macron to step down.

Struggling to gain initiative, the head of state, whose popularity tumbled to record low of 23 percent, capitulated this week over plans for higher fuel taxes that fuelled the public anger.

In a further move to quell the social action, French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe offered more concessions, saying he was open to new measures to benefit workers on the lowest salaries.

"I am ready to look at all measures that will help raise the pay of those on the minimum wage without doing excessive damage to our competitiveness and businesses," Philippe told the parliament's upper house on Thursday.

For now, the protest movement shows no sign of abating. Protestors still demand concrete moves, notably a rise in minimum wage and lower taxes.

Facing his worst street challenge, Macron will reach out to nation "early next week" on television, to try to convince disillusioned people to keep faith in him to restore the economy and handle the social strains.

Eighteen months into his term, the 40-year-old ex-investment banker has irked left-wingers and middle-class with pro-market measures to foster growth and promote job creation.

"I understand this rancor ...What has been said needs to be heard more deeply, society needs solutions...," Macron said while he presented the country's ecology strategy on Nov 27.

"I refuse to set up a two-speed France where the most modest will have to pay more ...," he added.

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