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.


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)

France’s ‘yellow vests’ clash with police in Paris

Protesters wearing yellow vests install a barricade during clashes with police at a demonstration during a national day of protest by the "yellow vests" movement in Paris, France, December 8, 2018. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe

By Sybille de La Hamaide and Sudip Kar-Gupta

PARIS (Reuters) – Anti-government protesters faced off with French riot police in Paris on Saturday, hurling projectiles, torching cars and vandalizing shops and restaurants in a fourth weekend of unrest that has shaken President Emmanuel Macron’s authority.

Police used tear gas, water cannon and horses to charge protesters on roads fanning out from the Champs Elysees boulevard, but encountered less violence than a week ago, when the capital witnessed its worst unrest since the 1968 student riots.

Protesters wearing yellow vests attend a demonstration on the Grands Boulevards as part a national day of protest by the “yellow vests” movement in Paris, France, December 8, 2018. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe

As night fell and many demonstrators started returning home, Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said there had been about 10,000 protesters in Paris by early evening and some 125,000 across the country.

Bordeaux, Lyon, Toulouse and other cities also saw major clashes between protesters and police on Saturday.

“The situation is now under control,” Castaner said at a joint news conference with Prime Minister Edouard Philippe.

He said about 120 demonstrators and nearly 20 police officers had been injured nationwide. Nearly 1,000 people had been arrested, 620 of them in Paris, after police found potential weapons such as hammers and baseball bats on them.

Philippe said police would remain vigilant through the night as some protesters continued to roam the city.

Groups of youths, many of them masked, continued skirmishing with police in the Place de la Republique area as some stores were looted.

Named after the fluorescent safety vests that French motorists must carry, the “yellow vest” protests erupted out of nowhere on Nov. 17, when nearly 300,000 demonstrators nationwide took to the streets to denounce high living costs and Macron’s liberal economic reforms.

Demonstrators say the reforms favor the wealthy and do nothing to help the poor and billed Saturday’s protest “Act IV” of their protest after three consecutive Saturdays of rioting.

The government this week canceled a planned rise in taxes on petrol and diesel in a bid to defuse the situation but the protests have morphed into a broader anti-Macron rebellion.

“Very sad day & night in Paris,” U.S. President Donald Trump said in a Twitter message. “Maybe it’s time to end the ridiculous and extremely expensive Paris Agreement and return money back to the people in the form of lower taxes?”

Protesters wearing yellow vests install a barricade during clashes with police at a demonstration during a national day of protest by the “yellow vests” movement in Paris, France, December 8, 2018. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe


The protests are jeopardizing a fragile economic recovery in France just as the Christmas holiday season kicks off.

Retailers have lost an estimated one billion euros in revenue since the protests erupted and shares in tourism-related shares saw their worst week in months.

Swathes of Paris’ affluent Right Bank north of the Seine river were locked down on Saturday, with luxury boutiques boarded up, department stores closed and restaurants and cafes shuttered. The Louvre, Eiffel Tower and the Paris Opera were also closed.

Demonstrators left a trail of destruction on Paris streets, with bank and insurance company offices’ windows smashed, cars and scooters set on fire and street furniture vandalized.

On the smashed front of one Starbucks cafe, vandals scrawled: “No fiscal justice, no social justice.”

The government had warned that far-right, anarchist and anti-capitalist groups would likely infiltrate protests and many of the skirmishes saw police tackling gangs of hooded youths, some of them covering their faces with masks.

“It feels like order is being better maintained this week,” Jean-Francois Barnaba, one of the yellow vests’ unofficial spokesmen, told Reuters.

“Last week the police were tear-gassing us indiscriminately. This time their actions are more targeted,” he added.

Tear gas fills the air during clashes with police at a demonstration during a national day of protest by the “yellow vests” movement in Paris, France, December 8, 2018. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe


The government this week offered concessions to soothe public anger, including scrapping next year’s planned hikes to fuel taxes in the first major U-turn of Macron’s presidency. It will cost the Treasury 4 billion euros ($4.5 billion).

But protesters want Macron to go further to help hard-pressed households, including an increase to the minimum wage, lower taxes, higher salaries, cheaper energy, better retirement benefits and even Macron’s resignation.

“We want equality, we want to live, not survive,” said demonstrator Guillaume Le Grac, 28, who works in a slaughterhouse in Britanny.

Macron is expected to address the nation early next week to possibly further soften planned reforms and tax increases.

(Reporting by Emmanuel Jarry, Sybille de la Hamaide, Sudip Kar-Gupta, Simon Carraud, Matthias Blamont, Marine Pennetier and Gus Trompiz; writing by Geert De Clercq and Richard Lough; editing by Gareth Jones and Jason Neely)

French leader Macron’s power system: never explain, never apologize

FILE PHOTO: French President Emmanuel Macron attends a ceremony to start the construction of the first metro line in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, November 30, 2017. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer/File Photo

By Michel Rose

PARIS (Reuters) – When Emmanuel Macron was gearing up for his presidential campaign in 2016, he set out on an unprecedented “great march” – a door-to-door campaign to hear voters’ grievances in what promised to be a new, more open way of running the country.

A year after his election, things have not turned out that way, and a small but growing number of rank-and-file supporters has voiced frustration at a leadership style that is, by Macron’s own admission, not always inclusive.

Surrounded by a small coterie of close aides, Macron is pushing through a series of contentious reforms with less consultation than is usual even for France, whose 1958 constitution gives the president wide-ranging powers.

The 40-year-old, described by one adviser as a hyperactive who needs little sleep, strongly defends his methods.

“I make absolutely no apology for the verticality of power,” he told literary journal La Nouvelle Revue Française.

“I am proud of the choices that are being made, and I hate the process which means you have to constantly explain the reasoning behind a decision.”

That grates with the likes of Corinne Lepage, a former minister under conservative Jacques Chirac who was one of the first well-known politicians to join Macron’s campaign in 2016.

Initially won over by the ex-minister’s charisma and a promise of doing politics differently, she said Macron’s program was written behind closed doors by the same group of people now in charge at the Elysee.

“What I quickly found embarrassing is the contradiction between the bottom-up approach that was promised and sold to the French, and the reality,” Lepage told Reuters.

“It’s democratic centralism, the Soviet way. Completely vertical. And also very masculine.”

Many grass root supporters, who set up thousands of “En Marche” committees across France during Macron’s campaign, gave up when they realized their ideas did not filter through to Paris, she said.

While there is no sign of Macron changing tack, his popularity ratings have slipped to their lowest point since he took office, with only 40 percent of the population having a favorable opinion of him, according to a recent poll.

Among the reasons for weakening support is people’s perception of an arrogant president worried about looking after the wealthy.


Despite being France’s youngest elected leader, Macron has shown a sure-footed confidence in office so far, backed by a tight group of like-minded administrators – most of them men and dubbed the “Macron Boys”, although there are women too.

Overseen by Alexis Kohler – who like Macron is an alumnus of the elite administrative school ENA and worked in the private sector – the core group of around a dozen members is responsible for driving the reform program.

It has done so at breakneck speed.

In just a year, Macron has made hiring and firing easier, slashed a wealth tax, launched an overhaul of the education system, unveiled plans to cut the number of lawmakers and confronted unions with a reform of the debt-laden railways.

More is in the pipeline.

“It’s started like a sprint but will soon turn into a marathon,” Kohler, 45, told Reuters in his gilded office, one room away from the president’s.

“We’re making plans rather far into 2018, even beyond that. We’re working on the basis that we’ll have the capacity to reform,” he said.

That confidence – in a country where governments have long been forced to water down or scrap reforms in the face of political opposition and protests – comes from a centralization of power that is down as much to men as institutions.

Macron, who wrote his undergraduate philosophy dissertation on Renaissance Italian diplomat Machiavelli famed for his chilling guide to holding power, has ensured competing voices do not easily emerge.

He has capped the number of advisers ministers can have to 10, reducing their autonomy. When Macron was economy minister, he had 25 advisers.

Ministers also allow their press interviews to be proof-read by the Elysee – sometimes by Macron himself.

Many members of the cabinet are technocrats still widely unknown to the public. The prime minister, a former conservative mayor, has had to share advisers – often Macron loyalists – with the president.

Streamlined decision making goes hand-in-hand with tight control of the message, as an occurrence at the Elysee Palace in May last year underlined.

Kohler, Macron’s most trusted adviser, wanted to ensure that French company Alstom was not sidelined by a proposed plan by German industrial giant Siemens to merge part of its operations with Canadian rival Bombardier.

Any such merger could have left Alstom, the maker of TGV high-speed trains, isolated and weakened.

“I need three months without any leaks,” Kohler told the president’s press adviser, according to a person present.

Unusually for such high-stakes cross-border deals, nothing leaked until the day a Siemens-Alstom merger was announced by the two companies four months later.

Perhaps surprisingly for a president hailed as a savior of progressive values in Europe and elsewhere, Macron’s office also announced it would move the press room – a symbol of transparency and accountability – out of the Elysee.

Macron’s “special adviser” Ismael Emelien has developed a communications strategy using Twitter and Facebook Live to cut out the media and produce slick snippets of presidential life.


Shortly after his election, Macron was given a huge parliamentary majority thanks to an electoral system specifically designed by post-war leader Charles de Gaulle to maximize presidential independence from parliament.

His lawmakers, many of them newcomers to politics, have diligently passed reforms sent their way, often via legal decrees meant to speed up debate.

For investors, the ability to deliver a modernizing program is positive for the French economy and wider euro zone.

But Macron’s controlling style is not without risk.

Rivals and a handful of allies warn that the electorate could turn to populist parties in 2022 presidential elections if they feel their voices are not being heard by the presidency.

Although Macron’s majority remains solid, some supporters, mostly hailing from the left, feel he has lurched to the right and bypassed parliament.

A particularly divisive immigration bill, which critics said was too tough and jarred with Macron’s pro-refugee stance during campaigning, showed one of the first cracks in his support.

One Macron lawmaker voted against it and 14 abstained.

The defector, former Socialist Jean-Michel Clement, said there was a risk that France was drifting toward a situation where “parliamentary control is non-existent”.

“Why was I the only one to vote against this bill when everyone thought it was a bad one? Because they’re not answering the question,” he told Reuters.

“Does that mean the executive branch has a stranglehold on the legislative branch? I think it does,” he said.

And a draft constitutional reform to cut the number of lawmakers will tip the balance of power even more toward the president and the government and weaken parliament, he added.

The stakes are high: if voters conclude that Macron is merely the latest in a line of mainstream politicians that have let them down, that could benefit more extremist forces.

“The most disappointed ones won’t give their vote to the president twice. When you have Marine Le Pen at 21 percent and Jean-Luc Melenchon at 20 percent, anything can happen tomorrow,” said Clement.

Le Pen leads the far-right Front National party and Melenchon represents the far-left.

Advisers shrug off such criticism.

“He (Macron) says Nicolas Sarkozy and Francois Hollande’s big mistake has been to try to mother the French,” one top adviser said, referring to the previous two presidents.

“You have to accept the paternal side of the office, with all the unpopularity that it implies. Because a father is also a hated figure.”

(Writing by Michel Rose; additional reporting by John Irish, Noah Barkin, Emmanuel Jarry, Elizabeth Pineau; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

Macron wants anti-‘fake news’ law in 2018

French President Emmanuel Macron delivers his New Year wishes to the members of the press corps at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, January 3, 2018.

PARIS (Reuters) – President Emmanuel Macron said on Wednesday he would overhaul French media legislation this year to fight the “fake news” spread on social media which he said threatened liberal democracies.

Since he was elected last year, Macron has criticized Russian media in particular, openly accusing TV channel RT of sowing disinformation about him via its website and social media during the presidential election.

“If we want to protect liberal democracies, we must have strong legislation,” Macron told a news conference.

Macron said the legislation would concern social media platforms, especially during election periods, and deeply change the role of France’s media watchdog CSA.

(Reporting by Michel Rose; Editing by Ingrid Melander)