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Yellow vest activists join French protests

By JULIAN SHEA in London | China Daily | Updated: 2019-12-09 09:15
Protesters wearing yellow vests demonstrate against pensions reform in Paris on Saturday. BENOIT TESSIER/REUTERS

Paris has been the scene of another weekend of political unrest and incidents of violence as supporters of the yellow vest movement took to the streets for the latest in their long-running series of demonstrations.

Scuffles broke out between police and protesters as yellow vest demonstrators joined a march against reform of France's complex retirement system, which currently has 42 types of pension plans.

These protests were further bolstered by nationwide demonstrations by contract truckers, complaining about changes to the taxation of diesel fuel. It was a similar fuel tax issue that started the yellow vest movement just over a year ago.

The coincidence of timing of other protest movements springing up has given new impetus to the yellow vests, who recently marked the first anniversary of their initial protest which has become an ongoing campaign.

"Yellow vests are back out in the streets," Emmanuel Buquet, 51, from Rouen, told The Associated Press. "It's getting worse and worse, we've obtained nothing since last year, just crumbs. The reforms are getting stronger and stronger," the unemployed man said.

On Thursday, there was a general strike in France, which contributed toward this weekend's protests. In the days before it took place, Ghislain Coutard, whose original social media video message of frustration inspired the whole yellow vest movement, told Sky News that after a year of often violent protests, he felt the movement was reaching a decisive point in its history.

"For me, it's make or break. This is either a new beginning or it's the end," he said. "We have lost so many people who've been injured. People are tired, and discouraged. The most determined are still in the streets every Saturday but we are gradually losing them, one by one. Huge arrests have been made. When we demonstrate, we don't know if we'll go home that night."

Details of the new pension plans are due to be released next week, and although the government insists the official retirement age of 62 will not be raised, it is thought that there will be changes to the rules encouraging people to work for longer. And in a nationwide address, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said: "You're going to have to work longer", and later added that any changes would be gradual so as not to be too "brutal".

The truck drivers have not yet targeted France's cities, although that has been threatened in the future, but they, together with the yellow vest and pension protesters, helped bring about major disruption to public transport this weekend.

"Our movement is a movement of rage against the continued fiscal punishment of road transport that we can no longer tolerate," said Alexis Gibergues, regional president of the truck drivers' federation, the Organization des Transporteurs Routiers Europeens.

 

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