One dead and more than 230 injured in French fuel tax protests
A total of 117 people were arrested following demonstrations across France.
One protester was killed and almost 230 other people were injured – eight seriously – at roadblocks set up around villages, towns and cities across France as citizens angry with rising fuel taxes rose up in a grassroots movement, posing a new challenge to beleaguered President Emmanuel Macron.
Police lobbed tear gas canisters at demonstrators on the famed Champs-Elysees Avenue in Paris as groups of “yellow jackets”, as the protesters call themselves, tried to make their way to the presidential Elysee Palace.
Hundreds of protesters later entered the bottom of the street dotted with luxury shops where the palace is located – and where Mr Macron lives – before being pushed back by security forces with shields.
In a similar scenario, police cleared out the huge traffic circle around the Arc de Triomphe, paralysed for hours by protesters.
French Interior Ministry officials counted nearly 283,000 protesters, mostly peaceful, throughout the day at more than 2,000 sites, some starting bonfires or flying balloons.
However, some demonstrations turned violent. In Troyes, south-east of Paris, about 100 people invaded the prefecture, the local representation of the state, damaging the inside.
In Quimper, Brittany, security forces used water cannon to disperse hostile protesters.
The protester who died, a 63-year-old woman, was killed when a driver caught in traffic accelerated in a panic at Pont-de-Beauvoisin, near Chambery in eastern France, according to local officials.
A confrontation with protesters “got heated up for no reason” and the driver accelerated her minivan after “people started rattling her car”, a witness told BFMTV. He said the woman told them she was taking her daughter to a doctor.
An investigation into the death is under way.
Eight of the 227 people injured are in serious condition, and they include a police officer and a firefighter who intervened when protesters attacked a closed service station.
A total of 117 people were arrested with 73 of them held for questioning.
The protesters had pledged to target tollbooths, roundabouts and other strategic traffic sites. They called themselves “yellow jackets” because most were wearing the fluorescent yellow vests that must be kept in vehicles of all French drivers in case of car troubles.
The nationwide protest was unusual because it arose from within the citizenry, backed neither by unions nor politicians, although some took part in a clear bid for supporters.
It was unclear whether the upstart movement, without a leader, would survive, and what problems it might pose for Mr Macron.
The grassroots nature of the protests, which drew supporters angry over an array of issues, made it a political hot potato for Mr Macron’s government.
Security officials treaded lightly, ordering police to use dialogue rather than force but to stop protesters from completely blocking major routes or endangering lives or property.
About 30 canisters of tear gas were fired to disperse protesters at the entrance of the Mont Blanc tunnel.
Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said: “They have sent a message. It is heard.
“The government is attentive to all demonstrations and, of course, we must continue to answer the expectations of the French including those about their purchasing power.”
The planned increase in fuel taxes, notably for diesel fuel, spoke to those French who feel the president has asked ordinary citizens to make the largest efforts in his bid to transform France. Those French who have a hard time making ends meet often rely on cheaper diesel fuel.
Mr Macron wants to close the gap between the price of diesel fuel and petrol as part of his strategy to wean France off fossil fuels.