One dead, dozens injured in fuel tax protests around France

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Demonstrators receive tear gas on November 17, 2018 in Quimper, western France, during a nationwide popular initiated day of protest called “yellow vest” (Gilets Jaunes in French) movement to protest against high fuel prices. (AFP)
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People run through tear gas on November 17, 2018 in Quimper, western France, during a nationwide popular initiated day of protest called “yellow vest” (Gilets Jaunes in French) movement to protest against high fuel prices. (AFP)
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A demonstrator walks past policemen on November 17, 2018 in Quimper, western France, during a nationwide popular initiated day of protest called “yellow vest” (Gilets Jaunes in French) movement to protest against high fuel prices. (AFP)
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People block Caen’s circular road on November 17, 2018 in Caen, Normandy, during a nationwide popular initiated day of protest called “yellow vest” (Gilets Jaunes in French) movement to protest against high fuel prices which has mushroomed into a widespread protest against stagnant spending power under French President. (AFP)
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A policeman evacuates a demonstrator on November 17, 2018 in Quimper, western France, during a nationwide popular initiated day of protest called “yellow vest” (Gilets Jaunes in French) movement to protest against high fuel prices. (AFP)
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A man holds a road sign on November 17, 2018 in Quimper, western France, during a nationwide popular initiated day of protest called “yellow vest” (Gilets Jaunes in French) movement to protest against high fuel prices. (AFP)
Updated 17 November 2018

One dead, dozens injured in fuel tax protests around France

PARIS: One protester was killed and 106 others were injured at roadblocks set up around France on Saturday as citizens angry at rising fuel taxes rose up in a grassroots movement and posed a new challenge to President Emmanuel Macron.
Police officers lobbed tear gas canisters at demonstrators on the famed Champs-Elysees Avenue in Paris as groups tried to make their way to the presidential Elysee Palace. Later, hundreds of protesters entered the bottom of the street dotted with luxury shops where the palace is located — and where Macron lives.
They were seen on BFMTV talking with riot police when the officers suddenly raised their shields and pushed the group back.
French Interior Ministry officials estimated that about 244,000 protesters were involved in several thousand protests around the country, many of them spontaneous.
The protester who died, a 63-year-old woman, was killed when a driver caught in the blockade accelerated in a panic at Pont-de-Beauvoisin, near Chambery, according to Louis Laugier, the prefect, or top state official, in the eastern Savoie region. According to various French media reports, protesters reportedly knocked on her car as she tried to take her daughter to a hospital. An investigation was opened.
Five people were seriously injured, while the others had more minor injuries, the Interior Ministry said in an early evening statement, raising an earlier count. It said 52 people were detained and 38 held for questioning.
Protesters, wearing yellow safety vests and dubbing themselves the “yellow jackets,” pledged to target tollbooths, roundabouts and the bypass that ring Paris. The fluorescent yellow vests donned by the protesters must be kept in the vehicles of all French drivers in case of car troubles.
The ministry said security forces used tear gas in several places besides the Champs-Elysees to unblock major routes, including firing about 30 canisters at the entrance to the Mont Blanc tunnel.
The nationwide protest was unusual due to its grassroots origins. It arose from within the citizenry, backed neither by unions nor politicians, although some took part in a clear bid for supporters.
The amateur nature of the protests, often spontaneous and therefore illegal, made it tricky for police, who had orders to use dialogue over force but to stop protesters from completely blocking major routes or endangering lives or property.
The situation on the Champs-Elysees, for instance, was confusing, with the protest producing a party atmosphere at some points and angry confrontations at others.
Police fired tear gas when a group moved into a street near the presidential palace. Hundreds of protesters took over the Place de la Concorde at the bottom of the avenue, shouting “Macron resign” as police looked on. By evening, 1,200 protesters remained in the Place “protected by police,” the Interior Ministry said.
The rise 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.
The taxes are part of Macron’s strategy to wean France off fossil fuels. Many drivers see them as emblematic of a presidency they view as disconnected from day-to-day economic difficulties and serving the rich.
The yellow jacket protests drew supporters angry about other issues, too, including diminishing buying power.
Macron’s popularity has plunged, hovering around 30 percent.
Robert Tichit, 67, a retiree, referred to the president as “King Macron.”
“We’ve had enough of it. There are too many taxes in this country,” he said.


Merkel warns of Brexit economic pain before Johnson visit

Updated 21 August 2019

Merkel warns of Brexit economic pain before Johnson visit

  • “The economic sky is not cloudless,” Merkel told an aviation industry conference
  • “That’s why I will talk with the British prime minister, who is visiting me today"

BERLIN: German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned Wednesday of the economic impact of a chaotic no-deal Brexit, hours before she was to receive British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on his first foreign visit.
“The economic sky is not cloudless,” and global tensions and Britain’s impending departure from the European Union “are already causing us headaches,” Merkel told an aviation industry conference.
“That’s why I will talk with the British prime minister, who is visiting me today, about how we can avoid friction as much as possible as Britain exits the EU because we have to struggle to achieve economic growth,” the leader of the bloc’s biggest economy added.
Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert stressed that an orderly Brexit would be “in every respect preferable” to a disorderly withdrawal of Britain, but that Germany was also preparing for the worst-case scenario.
Johnson, in a “do-or-die” gamble, has insisted Britain will leave the EU on October 31, no matter whether it has ironed out remaining differences with the bloc or not, at the risk of economic turmoil.
He is seeking to convince Merkel, and then French President Emmanuel Macron, to renegotiate elements of the UK’s impending divorce from the bloc, including the so-called Ireland backstop plan — something the EU leaders have already ruled out.
He hopes that the other 27 EU members will blink and make concessions to avoid a no-deal Brexit that would hurt people and companies on both sides of the Channel.
Ahead of his Berlin visit, Johnson reaffirmed in a tweet that “we’re going to leave the EU on October 31st and make this country the best in the world to live in,” the message adorned with a Union Jack flag.
In Berlin, Johnson will be received with military honors at 1600 GMT before his talks with Merkel, then head to France for a meeting with Macron on Thursday.
At the weekend, all three will meet US President Donald Trump, a vocal supporter of Brexit and its champion Johnson, and the leaders of Canada, Italy and Japan at a G7 summit in the French seaside resort of Biarritz.
Johnson’s tough stance has put him on a collision course with EU leaders who have insisted the withdrawal deal agreed under his predecessor Theresa May is final and stressed the need for unity among the other 27 nations.
EU Council President Donald Tusk and Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said the bloc would not cave in to Johnson’s demand to scrap the backstop plan, which would keep Britain in the European customs union if no trade deal is signed.
Johnson has slammed the backstop as “undemocratic” and charged it would prevent Britain from pursuing a trade policy independent of EU rules.
Berenberg Bank senior economist Kallum Pickering predicted that “if Johnson hopes to persuade Merkel and Macron to sweet-talk Varadkar into changing his tune, he will likely be disappointed.”
“All of the EU’s actions so far since the Brexit vote demonstrate that the EU’s priority is the cohesion of the 27.”
Merkel struck a cautiously hopeful note on Tuesday, declaring that the EU was open to “a practical arrangement” for the Irish border if it ensured trade and peace under the Good Friday Agreement.
Given the shock and dismay Brexit has sparked in continental Europe, its vocal champion, the flamboyant former London mayor and ex-foreign minister Johnson, is sure to meet political headwinds.
German media regularly characterises Johnson as a reckless political showman with Trump-style populist tendencies.
News magazine Der Spiegel recently caricatured him as the tooth-gapped cover boy Alfred E. Neuman of the American humor magazine Mad, with the headline “Mad in England.”
Tabloid-style Bild daily nominated Johnson as its “loser of the day” Wednesday after he “hit a brick wall” in his attempts to convince Merkel and Tusk to renegotiate parts of the withdrawal agreement.
The conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung judged that “Johnson knows that the other 27 EU members will not throw Ireland under a bus, nor will they do anything to harm the integrity of the single market.
“His ‘alternative arrangements’ are just hot air. May spent the last three years looking for alternatives. There are none!“