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Macron cheered at agriculture show, but still faces 'Yellow Vest' anger

Xinhua | Updated: 2019-02-24 02:20

French President Emmanuel Macron visits the 56th International Agriculture Fair, Feb 23, 2019. [Photo/IC]

PARIS -- French President Emmanuel Macron was cheered by local farmers on Saturday during his second presidential agricultural show that coincides with the 15th straight weekend of action against his economic reforms.

Already struggling to shake off the tag of "the president of the rich" who had left rural regions behind, the 41-year-old head of state was greeted by cheers during his visit to the country's main agricultural fair, reflecting the improvement of the approval ratings he had recently enjoyed.

"Bravo," "We are with you," a group of farmers and visitors told Macron as he began his visit of the annual farm meeting, a rite passage for political leaders.

In front of camera, the relaxed-looked top official, was touring the stands in the giant exhibition halls, stopping to talk policy with livestock farmers and visitors.

"We have to explain and listen," Macron said.

Dogged by critics for having a monarchical way of governing and a reputation of arrogance, France's youngest top official in its modern history, had been hitting the ground running via a series of debates in rural French cities to defend policy. That seems helping him to dry up critics and social strains ignited by a continued protests of "Yellow Vests."

An Ifop survey released last week, saw the president's public support improving by 6 percentage points to 34 percent in February from a month earlier.

The pollster also found that more people thought he was close to the French concerns and that his economic policy was good, with the scores rising by 7 points and 3 points respectively.

As Macron seems relish the event at La Porte Versailles, thousands of "Yellow Vest" protesters marched in Paris and other French cities in the 15th consecutive weekend, asking him to step down.

Like recent weeks, sporadic clashes between demonstrators and police erupted in the capital. Fourteen were detained in the wake of the standoffs, according to Paris police headquarters' figures.

Tension flared further in the western city of Rennes and in Clermont-Ferrand, central France where 16 were arrested.

Named for the high-visibility jackets all motorists in France carry in their cars, the " Yellow Vest" movement, which started on Nov. 17 last year as a social-media protest group, began with the aim of denouncing Macron's taxes on fuel that the protestors said would further undermine the purchasing power.

However, over the past weeks the movement has evolved into a wider social rebellion, with some calling for a "citizens' initiative referendum" to allow citizens to have stronger say to define the economic and social roadmap for the eurozone's second main powerhouse.

Although, the social uprising appeared to be waning after Macron offered concessions, it's uncertain if they will be enough, with many determined protesters still calling for his resignation or an immediate referendum on his presidency.

"Will the movement stop ? I don't think so. The "Yellow Vests" will continue protesting and making pressure on the government at least till March," Eddy Fougier, an expert in social movements told BFMTV news television.

With an eye on this spring's European election, a crucial contest to defend his political craftiness, Macron is betting on the proposed three-month debate and face-to-face meetings with people to quell social unrest and help him regain the initiative.

He pledged to make the consultation's conclusions public within a month of the end of the debate on March 15.

The fresh round of protests lured 11,600 participants by 1300 GMT across France. The turnout was up from a week ago when 10,600 people demonstrated.

In Paris, Saturday's protest coordinated via social media, has gathered 4,000 compared with 3,000 on Feb 16.

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