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Macron to address France as protests shake government

Scores of people were injured in the latest violence.

Pressure is mounting on French President Emmanuel Macron to announce measures to calm violent protests when he addresses the nation on Monday, and breaks a silence seen as aggravating a crisis that has shaken the government and the whole country.

The president will consult an array of national and local officials as he tries to control the ballooning and radicalising protest movement triggered by anger at his policies, and a growing sense that they favour the rich.

Mr Macron will speak from the presidential Elysee Palace at 8pm (1900 GMT), an Elysee official said.

Government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux said earlier on LCI TV station he was “sure (Macron) will know how to find the path to the hearts of the French, speak to their hearts”.

But, he added, a “magic wand” would not solve all the problems of the protesters, known as “gilets jaunes” for the fluorescent safety vests they often wear.

Last week Mr Macron withdrew a fuel tax hike, the issue that kicked off protests in mid-November, in an effort to appease the protesters, but the move was seen as too little too late.

For many protesters, Mr Macron himself, widely seen as arrogant and disconnected from rank-and-file French, has become the problem.

Calls for him to resign were rampant on Saturday, the fourth weekend of large-scale protests.

Demonstrators stand behind a burning car in Marseille (Claude Paris/AP)

“Macron is there for the rich, not for all the French,” 68-year-old Jean-Pierre Meunuer said on Saturday.

Labour minister Muriel Penicaud dampened any notion that the minimum wage would be raised, telling LCI that “there will be no boost for the Smic (minimum wage),” because “it destroys jobs”.

Paris tourist sites reopened on Sunday, while workers cleaned up debris from protests that left widespread damage in the capital and elsewhere.

At least 71 people were injured in Paris on Saturday.

The economy minister, meanwhile, lamented the economic damage.

“This is a catastrophe for commerce, it’s a catastrophe for our economy,” Bruno Le Maire said on Sunday while visiting merchants around the Saint Lazare train station, among areas hit by vandalism as the pre-Christmas shopping season got under way.

A demonstrator plays a drum in Paris (Rafael Yaghobzadeh/AP)

After the fourth Saturday of nationwide protests by the grassroots movement with broadening demands, officials said they understood the depth of the crisis.

Mr Le Maire said it was a social and democratic crisis as well as a “crisis of the nation” with “territorial fractures”.

However, the president must also speak to protesters’ pocketbooks. Among myriad demands was increased buying power.

The number of injured in Paris and nationwide was down Saturday from rioting a week ago.

Even so, TV footage broadcast around the world of the violence in Paris neighbourhoods popular with tourists has tarnished the country’s image.

Police officers clash with demonstrators in Lyon (Laurent Cipriani/AP)

A number of tourists at the Eiffel Tower, which reopened Sunday after closing Saturday, said they were avoiding the Champs-Elysees, Paris’ main avenue that is lined with shops and cafes and normally a magnet for foreign visitors.

Nearly 1,000 people, almost 100 of them minors and most without police records, were being held in custody after the Saturday protests in the French capital, Paris chief prosecutor Remy Heitz said.

He added that most of those in custody were men under 40 from various regions who went to Paris to protest.

France deployed around 89,000 police but still failed to deter the determined protesters.


From Belfast Telegraph