Clouds of teargas hung over central Paris on Saturday, as thousands of Yellow Vest protesters flocked to the capital to denounce President Emmanuel Macron’s policies.
A solid cordon of police sealed off the Champs Elysées and surrounding streets, leaving the Place de la Concorde, opposite the French parliament, eerily empty.
“They’ve blocked everything off!” exclaimed one of a group of young men striding down the Tuileries Gardens. “We can’t get through. We can’t tell them what we want to tell them. They’ve closed all the metro stations. They don’t want us to speak up.”
So what did he want to say?
“We’ve had enough. Taxes, it’s too much. The old people. I’m here for my parents. They’ve given their lives, now they see how much they’re paid and oh la la! Pensions have gone down, their spending power has gone down. Christmas is coming, they have grandchildren …”
“Fuel is the straw that’s broken the camel’s back. People have had enough of everything.”
Taxes and resentment of elite
The protests were sparked by a rise in a green tax on petrol and diesel introduced by President Emmanuel Macron’s government.
So do the demonstrators not want to pay for public services?
“We’re in favour of taxes when it’s to do something but now enough is enough,” said Karim, a young man from the central city of Limoges who was also heading for the police lines in the hope of finding the rest of the protest. “And then there are too many corrupt people in government, too many people who get rich and when they’re in trouble with the law nothing happens to them. There are too many crooks there.”
The sound of teargas rounds being fired echoed in the streets around Place de la Madeleine, where several hundred protesters faced CRS riot police
As young men ran from the police, one berating a cameraman for the TV coverage of the movement, Nicolas, a manual worker from Picardy, voiced the frustrations of people living in rural areas and small towns who are the backbone of this protest movement.
“Half way through the month, we have nothing to live on,” he said.
He was against “petrol, all these taxes, on food, everything”, he said. “I need my car to go to work, to fetch the children from school, to do the shopping. We need the car all the time.”
Anger with Macron
Resentment of Macron and other politicians is repeatedly voiced on the demonstrations.
“I’m against the government,” said Daniel, standing with a group of friends as some protesters boo the cops and others appeal to them to join the movement. “The way they behave all the time at the expense of French people, who are struggling every month just to get by.”
Is it becomiong more difficult to make ends meet for him?
“Yes, it’s more difficult. We’re taxed all over the place, all the taxes they add all the time. It never ends. It’s pay, pay, pay…”
What about the government’s claim the tax increases are needed to fight climate change.
“That’s crap,” said Daniel, only to be interrupted by a woman protester, crying: “We’re real greens, not like them! We try to eat organic with the little left to us.”
Even some former Macron voters have joined the revolt against a president perceived as haughty and serving the interests of a wealthy elite.
“It’s the contempt he has for people,” esplained Jean-Pierre. “It’s not about me personally, I have a standard of living that allows me to live comfortably. But people I know have enormous difficulty getting by. I find that Mr Macron – and I voted for him, I was a convinced Macronite at first – it turns out that he’s a bit contemptuous of people. The fact that the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer … there comes a time when he should wake up, that he should think of his people.”
Does he think he will?
“Not in the least! But perhaps. Who knows?”
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