French police fire tear gas at protesters in Paris May Day rally

A protester wearing a yellow vest holds a French flag as he walks among tear gas during the traditional May Day labour union march with French unions and yellow vests protesters in Paris, France, May 1, 2019. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes

By Clotaire Achi and Benoit Tessier

PARIS (Reuters) – French police fired tear gas to push back masked demonstrators in central Paris on Wednesday as thousands of people used an annual May Day rally to protest against President Emmanuel Macron’s policies.

Labor unions and so-called “yellow vest” protesters were on the streets across France, days after Macron outlined a response to months of street protests that included tax cuts worth around 5 billion euros ($5.6 billion).

A Reuters journalist saw riot police use tear gas to disperse a group of hooded and masked protesters who had converged at the front of the traditional May Day labor union march in Paris.

Some protesters wearing hoods or yellow vests responded by throwing projectiles at the police. Television footage showed a van with its windows smashed. Several people were lightly wounded.

By mid-afternoon, the main march crossing the southern part of the capital was finally able to move amid relative calm, although it appeared that yellow-vests and more radical elements rather than labor unions were dominating the march. The hard left CGT union denounced police violence.

People including protesters wearing yellow vests gather near La Rotonde restaurant during the traditional May Day labour union march in Paris, France, May 1, 2019. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer

People including protesters wearing yellow vests gather near La Rotonde restaurant during the traditional May Day labour union march in Paris, France, May 1, 2019. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer

“While the inter-union procession was to start at 14:30 (1230 GMT), unprecedented and indiscriminate repression took place following the acts of violence by some parties,” the union said in a statement. It said union members including the CGT secretary general had been tear-gassed, adding, “This current scenario, scandalous and unprecedented, is unacceptable in our democracy.”

A Reuters photographer saw several masked protesters removing their outfits to merge into the crowd.

French police had warned on Tuesday that there could be clashes with far-left anarchist groups, known as Black Blocs, after calls on social media for radicals to hit the streets.

Authorities had said they expected some 2,000 Black Bloc protesters from France and across Europe to turn up on the sidelines of the traditional May Day union rallies.

Some 7,400 police were deployed in Paris and made 200 arrests.

The “yellow vest” protests, named after motorists’ high-visibility jackets, began in November over fuel tax increases but have evolved into a sometimes violent revolt against politicians and a government seen as out of touch.

Many in the grassroots movement, which lacks a leadership structure, have said Macron’s proposals do not go far enough and most of what he announced lacks detail.

Thousands of people also demonstrated in cities from Marseille to Toulouse and Bordeaux. Some 300 yellow-vest protesters tried to storm a police station in the Alpine town of Besancon.

“We have been trying to fight, to make ourselves heard, for six months and nobody cares. People don’t understand the movement, though it seems pretty simple: We just want to live normally,” said Florence, 58, a trainer in a large company who was marching in Paris.

(Additional reporting by Ardee Soriano, Elizabeth Pineau and Emmanuel Jarry; Writing by John Irish; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

France’s Macron offers tax cuts to quell ‘yellow vest’ protests

French President Emmanuel Macron speaks during a news conference to unveil his policy response to the yellow vests protest, at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, April 25, 2019. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer

PARIS (Reuters) – French President Emmanuel Macron pledged on Thursday to cut tax further and said the French would have to work more as he outlined his response to months of anti-government protests that have challenged his authority.

Two years into his presidency, Macron is under pressure to deliver policies to quell the five-month old “yellow vest” movement, after a first salvo of measures worth 10 billion euros ($11.13 billion) last December failed to put the genie back in the bottle.

Macron said he wanted a “significant” cut in income tax, which would be financed by closing loopholes, squeezing government spending, but the French would also have to work more.

Although the number of demonstrators has declined since a peak in November, protesters clashed with police for a 23rd straight week last Saturday.

Thursday’s response is the result of a three-month long national debate, during which Macron rolled up his sleeves to discuss issues from high taxes to local democracy and decaying shopping streets with mayors, students and hard-up workers.

He stuck to his guns on Thursday, however, about the bulk of reforms his government has already implemented.

“I asked myself: Should we stop everything that was done over the past two years? Did we take a wrong turn? I believe quite the opposite,” Macron told a news conference, the first of his presidency in the Elysee Palace.

The street rebellion erupted over planned diesel tax hikes last November but morphed into a broader backlash against inequality and a political elite perceived as having lost touch with the common person.

Macron, who swept to power promising to “transform France” and “make work pay”, has seen his ambitious reform agenda derailed by the unrest. Pension and unemployment insurance reforms planned for 2019 have made little progress so far.

(Reporting by Michel Rose, Marine Pennetier, Jean-Baptiste Vey; writing by Leigh Thomas, Editing by Sarah White)

French interior minister warns of yellow-vest riots on Saturday

FILE PHOTO: Protesters wearing yellow vests attend a demonstration during the Act XXI (the 21st consecutive national protest on Saturday) of the yellow vests movement at the financial district of La Defense near Paris, France, April 6, 2019. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier/File Photo

PARIS (Reuters) – The French interior minister warned on Friday that violence could flare up on the 23rd Saturday of yellow-vest protests, as authorities banned marches around the fire-gutted Notre-Dame cathedral.

The warning comes after weeks of relative calm, with the marches attracting declining numbers as yellow-vest protesters waited for President Emmanuel Macron’s expected response to their various demands which include lower taxes and more government services.

Christophe Castaner, the interior minister, said domestic intelligence services had informed him of a potential return of rioters intent on wreaking havoc in Paris, Toulouse, Montpellier and Bordeaux, in a repeat of violent protests on March 16.

That day, hooded gangs ransacked stores on Paris’s famed Champs-Elysees avenue, set fire to a bank and forced Macron to cut short a ski trip in the Pyrenees.

“The rioters will be back tomorrow,” Castaner told a press conference. “Their proclaimed aim: a repeat of March 16,” he said. “The rioters have visibly not been moved by what happened at Notre-Dame.”

Castaner said that planned marches that would have come near the medieval church on the central island on the Seine river had been banned, while one march from Saint-Denis, north of Paris, to Jussieu university on the Left Bank, had been authorized.

The catastrophic fire at Notre-Dame cathedral on Monday, one of France’s best-loved monuments, prompted an outpouring of national sorrow and a rush by rich families and corporations to pledge around 1 billion euro ($1.12 billion)for its reconstruction.

That has angered some yellow-vest protesters, who have expressed disgust at the fact their five-month-old movement, which started as an anti-fuel tax protest last year, has not received the same generous donations by France’s elite.

“I’m sorry, and with all due respect to our heritage, but I am just taken aback by these astronomic amounts!” Ingrid Levavasseur, one of the yellow vests’ most recognizable public faces, said on her Facebook page.

“After five months on the streets, this is totally at odds with what we have seen,” she said.

The yellow vest movement poses the biggest challenge so far to Macron’s authority two years into his presidency.

The French leader was due to unveil policies to quell the grassroot movement on Monday, before the blaze at Notre-Dame forced him to cancel the speech. He has yet to set a new date for the announcements.

(Reporting by Danielle Rouquié, writing by Michel Rose; editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise)

France’s Macron welcomes U.S. reversal on keeping troops in Syria

French President Emmanuel Macron waits for the arrival of a guest at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, February 25, 2019. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer

PARIS (Reuters) – French President Emmmanuel Macron on Monday welcomed the United States’ decision to leave American troops in Syria, a reversal by U.S. President Donald Trump that came after an outcry from coalition allies such as France.

“On the U.S. decision, I can only but welcome this choice,” Macron told a news conference with his Iraqi counterpart Barham Salih. “The U.S. decision is a good thing. We will continue to operate in the region within the coalition.”

In December, Trump ordered the withdrawal of all 2,000 troops in Syria after he said they had defeated Islamic State militants, an abrupt decision that sparked consternation among allies and was a factor in his defense secretary’s resignation.

Macron had personally sought to convince Trump to maintain troops in Syria, French diplomats said at the time, warning him about the risks of pulling out too early.

The United States will leave about 400 U.S. troops split between two different regions of Syria, a senior administration official said last Friday.

(Reporting by Michel Rose; Marine Pennetier and Jean-Baptiste Vey, Editing by Sarah White)

Enough! Thousands decry anti-Semitism in France after spike in attacks

People attend a national gathering to protest antisemitism and the rise of anti-Semitic attacks in the Place de la Republique in Paris, France, February 19, 2019. Picture taken with a fish-eye lens. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer

By Vincent Kessel and Noemie Olive

STRASBOURG/PARIS, France (Reuters) – Thousands of people rallied across France after a surge of anti-Semitic attacks in recent weeks that culminated on Tuesday with vandals daubing swastikas and anti-Jewish slogans on dozens of graves in a Jewish cemetery.

Political leaders from all parties, including former Presidents Francois Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy, gathered in Paris filling the Place de la Republique, a symbol of the nation, to decry anti-Semitic acts with one common slogan: “Enough!”

People also lined the streets of cities from Lille in the north to Toulouse and Marseille in the south.

People attend a national gathering to protest antisemitism and the rise of anti-Semitic attacks in the Place de la Republique in Paris, France, February 19, 2019. Placard reads: "No to the trivialisation of hatred". REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes

People attend a national gathering to protest antisemitism and the rise of anti-Semitic attacks in the Place de la Republique in Paris, France, February 19, 2019. Placard reads: “No to the trivialization of hatred”. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes

President Emmanuel Macron paid respects at one of the 96 desecrated graves in the village of Quatzenheim, near the eastern city of Strasbourg.

“Whoever did this is not worthy of the French republic and will be punished… We’ll take action, we’ll apply the law and we’ll punish them,” he said, walking through a gate scarred with a swastika as he entered the graveyard.

Macron later visited the national Holocaust memorial in Paris with the heads of the Senate and National Assembly.

France is home to the biggest Jewish community in Europe — around 550,000 — a population that has grown by about half since World War Two, but anti-Semitic attacks remain common. Government statistics released last week showed there were more than 500 anti-Semitic attacks in the country last year, a 74 percent increase from 2017.

“Some people are provoking the authority of the state. It needs to be dealt with now and extremely firmly,” Sarkozy told reporters. “It’s a real question of authority. Violence is spreading and it needs to stop now.”

Among incidents in recent days, “yellow vest” protesters were filmed hurling abuse on Saturday at Alain Finkielkraut, a well-known Jewish writer and son of a Holocaust survivor.

Artwork on two Paris post boxes showing the image of Simone Veil, a Holocaust survivor and former magistrate, was defaced with swastikas, while a bagel shop was sprayed with the word “Juden”, German for Jews, in yellow letters. A tree in a Paris suburb in memory of Ilan Halimi, a young Jewish man kidnapped, tortured and murdered in 2006, was cut in two.

People attend a national gathering to protest antisemitism and the rise of anti-Semitic attacks in the Place de la Republique in Paris, France, February 19, 2019. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes

People attend a national gathering to protest antisemitism and the rise of anti-Semitic attacks in the Place de la Republique in Paris, France, February 19, 2019. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes

The series of attacks has alarmed politicians and prompted calls for action against what some commentators describe as a new form of anti-Semitism among the far-left and Islamist preachers.

“I call on all French and European leaders to take a strong stand against anti-Semitism,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a video message recorded in Hebrew. “It is an epidemic that endangers everyone, not just us.”

A rabbi and three children were killed at a Jewish school in Toulouse in 2012 by an Islamist gunman, and in 2015 four Jews at a kosher supermarket in Paris were among 17 people killed by Islamist militants.

(Additional reporting by Gilbert Reilhac in Strasbourg and Mayaan Lubell in Jerusalem; Writing by Luke Baker and John Irish; Editing by Gareth Jones and Frances Kerry)

French TV cuts Facebook live feed from Jewish cemetery after anti-Semitic abuse

Graves desecrated with swastikas are seen in the Jewish cemetery in Quatzenheim, near Strasbourg, France, February 19, 2019. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler

By Luke Baker

PARIS (Reuters) – A French TV channel said on Wednesday it had been forced to cut short a live Facebook broadcast from a desecrated Jewish cemetery in eastern France because of an onslaught of anti-Semitic commentary.

France 3 said it went live from the cemetery in the village of Quatzenheim on Tuesday as President Emmanuel Macron was visiting to pay his respects after more than 90 graves were vandalized with swastikas and anti-Semitic abuse.

But as it broadcast footage online to its more than 1.3 million Facebook followers, the feed was inundated with anti-Semitic commentary and abuse.

“We are talking about explicit death threats, comments that were openly anti-Semitic and racist, including “Heil Hitler”, “dirty Jew” or “dirty Jews”, comments that were addressed at Emmanuel Macron and representatives of the Jewish community,” the channel said in a statement explaining its decision.

“Within minutes, the number of vile and illegal comments had gone well beyond our capacity to moderate them,” it explained, adding that it would have taken 10 or 20 staff to handle the onslaught. “We refuse to traffic in hatred.”

ALARM

The attack on the cemetery is the latest in a series of incidents across France in recent weeks that have alarmed the Jewish community and prompted calls for harder hitting legislation against those responsible.

During his visit to the cemetery, Macron spoke to members of the local community and promised a tough line.

“Whoever did this is not worthy of the French republic and will be punished,” he said. “We’ll take action, we’ll apply the law and we’ll punish them.”

On Tuesday evening, some 20,000 people, joined by politicians from all parties, gathered at the Place de la Republique in central Paris to denounce anti-Semitism. Similar rallies were held in cities across the country.

While France is home to the largest Jewish population in Europe, with a community of around 550,000 people, there continues to be a steady drip-feed of anti-Semitic attacks. Commentators have blamed incitement not only from the far-right but from the far-left and fringe Islamists.

In 2018, the number of anti-Semitic incidents increased by 74 percent nationwide, figures released last week showed, despite having fallen somewhat in previous years.

(Writing by Luke Baker; Editing by Gareth Jones)

France shaken by outbreak of anti-Semitic violence and abuse

French President Emmanuel Macron looks at a grave vandalised with a swastika during a visit at the Jewish cemetery in Quatzenheim, France February 19, 2019. Frederick Florin/Pool via REUTERS

By Luke Baker

PARIS (Reuters) – A series of attacks across France in recent days has alarmed politicians and prompted calls for action against what some commentators describe as a new form of anti-Semitism among the far-left and Islamist preachers.

The problem was starkly underlined on Tuesday with the discovery of more than 90 graves in a Jewish cemetery in eastern France desecrated with swastikas and other abuse. It remains unclear who carried out the attack.

Graves desecrated with swastikas are seen in the Jewish cemetery in Quatzenheim, near Strasbourg, France, February 19, 2019. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler

Graves desecrated with swastikas are seen in the Jewish cemetery in Quatzenheim, near Strasbourg, France, February 19, 2019. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler

“Whoever did this is not worthy of the French Republic and will be punished,” declared President Emmanuel Macron as he paid homage at the site. “We’ll take action, we’ll apply the law and we’ll punish them.”

Politicians from across the spectrum will join marches against anti-Semitism across France on Tuesday evening, including in Paris. Macron will visit the Holocaust memorial in the city, together with the heads of parliament.

France is home to the largest Jewish community in Europe, around 550,000 people, a population that has grown by about half since World War Two. But anti-Semitic attacks remain common, with more than 500 alone in 2018, a 74 percent increase on 2017, according to figures released last week.

Almost every day over the past two weeks there has been new evidence of anti-Semitism.

A tree in memory of Ilan Halimi, a young Jewish man kidnapped, tortured and murdered in 2006, was cut in two. A bagel shop in Paris was spray-painted with the word “Juden”, German for Jews, in yellow letters. Portraits of Simone Veil, a Holocaust survivor and magistrate, were defaced with swastikas.

Then last Saturday, a group of around 30 ‘yellow vest’ protesters were filmed harassing Alain Finkielkraut, a well-known writer and son of a Holocaust survivor, as he walked through a Paris neighborhood, calling him a “dirty Zionist shit” and telling him to “go back to Tel Aviv”.

A French gendarme conducts their investigation as he photographs graves that were desecrated with swastikas in the Jewish cemetery in Quatzenheim, near Strasbourg, France, February 19, 2019. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler

A French gendarme conducts their investigation as he photographs graves that were desecrated with swastikas in the Jewish cemetery in Quatzenheim, near Strasbourg, France, February 19, 2019. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler

UNCHECKED INCITEMENT

Some commentators have blamed the resurgence on unchecked incitement by fringe Islamist preachers, calling it a new form of anti-Semitism, as opposed to that most commonly associated with Nazi ideology and the far-right.

Others point to the increasingly virulent criticism of Israel coming from the far-left and the rise of anti-Zionism – opposition to the existence of Israel as a homeland for the Jewish people – which has morphed into hatred of the Jews.

Among those filmed hurling abuse at Finkielkraut was a Muslim on a watchlist, according to French officials.

Francis Kalifat, the head of Crif, an umbrella organization representing France’s Jewish community, said anti-Zionism needed to be regarded as akin to anti-Semitism.

“If you want to have an effective fight against anti-Semitism, you need to be able to fight against all forms of it,” he said. “It’s not enough to fight against the (anti-Semitism) of the extreme right, or that of the extreme left or the Islamists. We need to fight against all forms, and that’s what we’re waiting for from political leaders.”

The leader of France’s far-left, Jean-Luc Melenchon, defended the ‘yellow vest’ movement against accusations of anti-Semitism on Tuesday, following the video targeting Finkielkraut.

Melenchon, whose La France Insoumise party draws support from the ‘yellow vests’, criticized the “politicization” of anti-Semitism, saying people from across the political spectrum needed to stand against all forms of racism and hatred.

“No, the ‘yellow vest’ movement does not deserve to be tarred by these despicable acts,” he said.

“No, the ‘yellow vest’ movement is not a racist movement, no the ‘yellow vest’ movement is not an anti-Semitic movement.”

France’s parliament on Tuesday debated whether anti-Zionism should be classified as a form of anti-Semitism, a position President Emmanuel Macron said he was opposed to.

“Those who today want the disappearance of Israel are those who want to attack the Jews,” he said. “But nevertheless, I think that when you delve into the detail, a penal condemnation of anti-Zionism creates other problems.”

Amid the rash of attacks, Israel’s immigration minister sent a tweet calling on French Jews to leave France and move to Israel, where around 200,000 French Jews already live.

(Additional reporting by Richard Lough and Johnny Cotton in Paris; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

Explainer: ‘Yellow vest’ crisis exposes limits of French welfare system

FILE PHOTO: A view of the Place de la Republique as protesters wearing yellow vests gather during a national day of protest by the "yellow vests" movement in Paris, France, December 8, 2018. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe/File Photo

By Leigh Thomas

PARIS (Reuters) – France’s “yellow vest” protests have exposed a deep-rooted belief that society is not working for large swathes of the French population, especially outside major cities.

Driving the unrest is anger about rising living costs – particularly among low-paid workers – and a perception that President Emmanuel Macron is deaf to their needs as he presses on with reforms seen as favoring the wealthy.

The following graphics look at underlying economic and social indicators in France to try to explain why so many people believe the system is working against them.

IS THE FRENCH WELFARE SYSTEM GENEROUS?

Without welfare transfers, poverty and inequality in France would be among the highest in developed countries belonging to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the Paris-based group estimates.

While many protesters rail against what they see as a gulf between them and the upper echelons of French society, OECD data suggests that the wealth divide is not as bad as in many other rich countries.

France’s extensive welfare system keeps the poverty rate at 14.3 percent, below the 18 percent OECD average and on a par with Scandinavian countries known for their egalitarianism.

Without tax and welfare payouts, nearly 42 percent of the population would be living in poverty, the highest rate among OECD countries for which recent data is available.

Likewise, France’s Gini coefficient, a gauge of income inequality, is slightly below the OECD average whereas without welfare transfers it would be among the highest, just behind Italy, Portugal and Greece, according to OECD data.

While a progressive tax system and generous welfare help narrow the wealth gap, it comes at a price as French taxpayers also bear the highest tax burden in the world.

Tax cuts on wealth and financial assets early on in Macron’s five-year term have added to middle-class taxpayers’ frustration and he has been criticized as being a president of the rich.

WHY DO MANY FEEL LEFT BEHIND?

Unlike Scandinavian countries, France’s poor have little hope of improving their lot in life despite the billions of euros the government spends on them, according to OECD data.

The OECD estimates it would take six generations for a person from a low-income family in France to reach an average income compared with only two generations in Denmark and an OECD average of 4.5.

“There are no rungs anymore on France’s social ladder,” Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire, a conservative, said on Monday.

While six generations is on a par with its neighbor Germany, the French have a deep attachment to the idea that state institutions, from schools to courts to government, are supposed to offer the same chance of success to all.

But despite income support for those on low incomes, they have little chance of doing better than their parents, according to a study last year by France Strategie , which is linked to the prime minister’s office.

The study found that a person whose father was a senior white-collar worker was 4.5 times more likely to belong to the wealthiest fifth of the population than someone whose father was a manual worker – largely because social origin correlates closely with one’s level of education.

While France is close to the average in international education comparisons, it has a bigger gulf between the scores of the lowest and highest performing upper school students, the OECD’s director of social affairs Stefano Scarpetta said.

WHY DO PEOPLE FEEL UNDER FINANCIAL PRESSURE?

The protests originally erupted in November over higher fuel taxes, that have since been scrapped, and general frustration about the high cost of living, sparking the worst street violence Paris has seen in decades.

With people on low incomes surviving on welfare handouts and the lower middle class squeezed by the tax burden, the French are highly sensitive to pressure on their daily budgets.

That helps explain a national obsession with purchasing power and French politicians are frequently judged on whether people are getting more spare cash.

While protesters largely ignored new tax breaks to boost purchasing power, official data lends credence to their claims that budgets are getting squeezed.

The pressure is increasingly coming from housing costs, which now absorb 23 percent of their budgets compared with 10 percent a generation ago, according to the official French statistics agency INSEE.

Meanwhile, a lack of jobs, deindustrialization and dwindling public services mean that discontent is highest in smaller towns cut off from the economic opportunities of bigger cities.

In towns of 5,000-10,000 people, 21 percent report below average life satisfaction compared to 14 percent in the capital Paris, INSEE said in a study this week.

(Reporting by Leigh Thomas; editing by David Clarke)

French police prepare for fifth wave of yellow vest protests

A protester wearing a yellow vest holds a French flag as the authorities dismantle their shelter at a traffic island near the A2 Paris-Brussels motorway in Fontaine-Notre-Dame, France, December 14, 2018. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol

PARIS (Reuters) – France will deploy tens of thousands of police nationwide and around 8,000 in Paris on Saturday to handle a fifth weekend of ‘yellow vest’ protests, although the movement appears to be losing steam after concessions by President Emmanuel Macron.

The chief of police in Paris said concerns remained about violent groups infiltrating the protests. Anti-riot officers will protect landmarks such as the Arc de Triomphe and prevent people from getting close to the presidential palace.

“We need to be prepared for worst-case scenarios,” police chief Michel Delpuech told RTL radio.

He expected businesses in the capital to be less affected this weekend after heavy disruption over the past three weeks when major stores shut, hotels suffered cancellations and tourists stayed away during the usually busy run-up to Christmas.

Nicknamed “Acte V” of the protests, the yellow vest demonstrators will take to the streets this weekend as France recovers from an unrelated attack on a Christmas market in the eastern city of Strasbourg on Tuesday when a gunman shot and killed three people and wounded several others.

Hundreds of police officers were redeployed to Strasbourg to search for the gunman, who was shot dead in an exchange of fire on Thursday evening.

Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said it was time for the yellow vests to scale down their protests and accept they had achieved their aims. Police officers also deserved a break, he added.

“I’d rather have the police force doing their real job, chasing criminals and combating the terrorism threat, instead of securing roundabouts where a few thousand people keep a lot of police busy,” he said.

TOLL ON THE ECONOMY

Attractions such as the Louvre museum and Opera Garnier will be open this weekend, as will luxury department stores like Galeries Lafayette and Printemps. Last Saturday they were closed as thousands of sometimes violent protesters tore through the city. The previous weekend the Arc de Triomphe was vandalized, cars were overturned and torched and businesses smashed up.

The protests have taken a toll on the economy, with output in the last quarter of the year set to be half initial projections, while Macron’s concessions are likely to push the budget deficit above an EU agreed limit.

The yellow vest movement, which began as a protest against fuel taxes and then grew into an anti-Macron alliance, appears to have calmed since the president announced a series of measures to help the working poor.

However, many people wearing the high-visibility motorists’ safety jackets which are the symbol of the protests were manning barricades outside cities on Friday.

After heavy criticism for not being seen to respond to the protesters’ complaints, Macron made a TV address this week during which he said he understood their concerns and acknowledged the need for a different approach.

As well as canceling fuel tax increases that were due to kick in next month, Macron said he would increase the minimum wage by 100 euros a month from January and reduce taxes for poorer pensioners, among other measures.

Since the first yellow vest protests on Nov. 17, supporters have kept up a steady stream of dissent, although the numbers joining marches have steadily fallen.

(Reporting by Inti Landauro; editing by Luke Baker and David Stamp)

Police hunt through eastern France for Strasbourg Christmas market attacker

French soldiers patrol past the traditional Christmas market in Nice, France, December 12, 2018. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard

By Vincent Kessler and John Irish

STRASBOURG, France (Reuters) – Police searched through eastern France on Wednesday for a man suspected of killing at least two people in a gun attack on a Christmas market in Strasbourg and who was known to have been religiously radicalized while in jail.

Witnesses told investigators the assailant cried out “Allahu Akbar” (God is Greater) as he launched his attack on the market, the Paris prosecutor said.

The prosecutor, Remy Heitz, also suggested the suspect may have chosen his target for its religious symbolism.

“Considering the target, his way of operating, his profile and the testimonies of those who heard him yell ‘Allahu Akbar’, the anti-terrorist police has been called into action,” Heitz told a news conference.

Police identified the suspect as Strasbourg-born Cherif Chekatt, 29, who is on an intelligence services watch list as a potential security risk.

An investigation had been opened into alleged murder with terrorist intent and suspected ties to terrorist networks with intent to commit crimes, Heitz said.

Two people were killed and a third person was brain-dead and being kept alive on life support, he said. Six other victims were fighting for their lives.

France raised its security threat to the highest alert level, strengthening controls on its border with Germany as elite commandos backed by helicopters hunted for the suspect.

French and German agents checked vehicles and public transport crossing the Rhine river, along which the Franco-German frontier runs, backing up traffic in both directions. Hundreds of French troops and police were taking part in the manhunt.

Deputy Interior Minister Laurent Nunez said he could not rule out that the fugitive had already crossed the frontier.

SERIAL CONVICT

The gunman struck at about 1900 GMT on Tuesday, just as the picturesque Christmas market in the historic city was shutting down.

He engaged in two gunfights with security forces as he evaded a police dragnet and bragged about his acts to the driver of a taxi that he commandeered, prosecutor Heitz said.

No one has yet claimed responsibility, but the U.S.-based Site intelligence group, which monitors jihadist websites, said Islamic State supporters were celebrating.

French and German security officials painted a portrait of Chekatt as a serial law-breaker who had racked up more than two dozen convictions in France, Germany and Switzerland and served time in prison.

“It was during these spells in jail that we detected a radicalization in his religious practices. But we there were never signs he was preparing an attack,” Minister Nunez said.

One German security source said the suspect was jailed in southern Germany from August 2016 to February 2017 for aggravated theft but was released before the end of his 27-month sentence so that he could be deported to France.

“He was banned from re-entering Germany at the same time”, the security source in the state of Baden-Wuerttemberg said. “We don’t have any knowledge of any kind of radicalization.”

BORDER CONTROLS

The attack took place at a testing time for President Emmanuel Macron, who is struggling to quell a month-long public revolt over high living costs that has spurred the worst public unrest in central Paris since the 1968 student riots.

The revelation that Chekatt was on a security watchlist will raise questions over possible intelligence failures, though some 26,000 individuals suspected of posing a security risk to France are on the “S File” list.

Of these, about 10,000 are believed to have been radicalized, sometimes in fundamentalist Salafist Muslim mosques, in jail or abroad.

Police had raided the suspect’s home early on Tuesday in connection with a homicide investigation. Five people were detained and under interrogation as part of that investigation.

At the Europa Bridge, the main border crossing in the region used by commuters traveling in both directions, armed police inspected vehicles. Police were also checking pedestrians and trains arriving in Germany from Strasbourg.

“We don’t know where the attacker is and we want to prevent him from entering Germany,” a spokeswoman for the German border police Bundespolizei said.

French Justice Minister Nicole Belloubet said there was no need for the government to declare a state of emergency.

Secular France has for years grappled with how to respond to both homegrown jihadists and foreign militants following attacks in Paris, Nice, Marseille and beyond.

In 2016, a truck plowed into a Bastille Day crowd in Nice, killing more than 80 people. In November 2015, coordinated Islamist militant attacks on the Bataclan concert hall and other sites in Paris claimed about 130 lives.

There have also been attacks in Paris on police on the Champs-Elysees avenue, the offices of satirical weekly publication Charlie Hebdo and a kosher store.

A man drove a trunk into a crowd at a Christmas market in Berlin in December 2016, killing 12 people.

(Reporting by Vincent Kessler, Geert De Clercq, Sophie Louet, Sudip Kar-Gupta, Emmanuel Jarry and Richard Lough in Paris, Vincent Kessler and Gilbert Reilhac in Strasbourg, Sabine Siebold and Andrea Shalal in Berlin; Writing by Richard Lough; Editing by Angus MacSwan)