Yellow vest anger burns in France, fueled by Notre Dame fire

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Protesters clash with riot police during an anti-government demonstration called by the ‘Yellow Vests’ (gilets jaunes) movement for the 23rd consecutive Saturday, on April 20, 2019 in Paris. (AFP)
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Protesters clash with riot police during an anti-government demonstration called by the ‘Yellow Vests’ (gilets jaunes) movement for the 23rd consecutive Saturday, on April 20, 2019 in Paris. (AFP)
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Protesters hold a banner reading “We do not have weapons, You do not have souls” during an anti-government demonstration called by the “yellow vests” (gilets jaunes) movement in Bordeaux, southwestern France, on April 20, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 20 April 2019

Yellow vest anger burns in France, fueled by Notre Dame fire

  • French police said they arrested more than 100 "yellow vest" demonstrators in Paris on Saturday
  • Clashes broke out with protestors taking to the streets for a 23rd week of anti-government marches

PARIS: French yellow vest protesters set fires along a march route through Paris on Saturday to drive home their message to a government they see as out of touch with the problems of the poor: that rebuilding the fire-ravaged Notre Dame Cathedral isn’t the only problem France needs to solve.
Like the high-visibility vests the protesters wear, the scattered small fires in Paris appeared to be a collective plea to the government to “look at me — I need help too!“
Police fired water cannon and sprayed tear gas to try to control radical elements on the margins of the largely peaceful march, one of several actions around Paris and other French cities.
The protesters were marking the 23rd straight weekend of yellow vest actions against economic inequality and President Emmanuel Macron’s government, which they see as favoring the wealthy and big business at the expense of ordinary workers. Protesters see themselves as standing up for beleaguered French workers, students and retirees who have been battered by high unemployment, high taxes and shrinking purchasing power.
Associated Press reporters saw a car, motorbikes and barricades set ablaze around the Place de la Republique plaza in eastern Paris. The smell of tear gas fired by police mixed with the smoke, choking the air.
Paris firefighters — who struggled earlier this week to prevent the 12th-century Notre Dame from collapsing — quickly responded to extinguish the flames at Saturday’s protest.
One masked protester dressed in black jumped on a Mercedes parked along the march route, smashing its front and back windshields.
Paris police headquarters said authorities detained 137 people by early afternoon and carried out spot checks on more than 14,000 people trying to enter the capital for Saturday’s protests.
The tensions focused on a march of several thousand people that started at the Finance Ministry in eastern Paris to demand lower taxes on workers and retirees and higher taxes on the rich.
Another group of about 200 people tried to march to the president’s Elysee Palace in central Paris, but riot police blocked them at the neo-classical Madeleine Church.
Yet another group tried to demonstrate yellow vest mourning over the Notre Dame blaze while also keeping up the pressure on Macron. They wanted to march to Notre Dame itself, but were banned by police, who set up a large security perimeter around the area.
One protester carried a huge wooden cross resembling those carried in Good Friday processions as he walked on a nearby Paris embankment.
Many protesters were deeply saddened by the fire at a national monument . But at the same time they are angry at the $1 billion in donations for Notre Dame renovations that poured in from French tycoons while their own economic demands remain largely unmet and they struggle to make ends meet.
“I think what happened at Notre Dame is a great tragedy but humans should be more important than stones. And if humans had a little bit more money, they too could help finance the reconstruction work at Notre Dame. I find this disgusting,” said protester Jose Fraile.
Some 60,000 police officers were mobilized for Saturday’s protests across France. The movement is largely peaceful but extremists have attacked treasured monuments, shops and banks and clashed with police.
The heavy police presence meant subway stations and roads around Paris were closed Saturday, thwarting tourists trying to enjoy the French capital on a warm spring day.
“Paris is very difficult right now,” said Paul Harlow, of Kansas City, Missouri, as he looked sadly at the damaged Notre Dame.
He and his wife Susan were in Paris only for a few days and didn’t make it in time to see the cathedral. On Saturday, their efforts to visit museums were derailed by closed subways and barricaded roads.
“I don’t think we’ll be back,” he said.
Other visitors showed solidarity with the yellow vest cause.
“I am not interested in joining them, but I can understand what they’re angry about,” said Antonio Costes, a retiree from the Paris suburb of Montreuil who came Saturday to see the damage to Notre Dame. “There is a lot of injustice.”
Macron had been scheduled to lay out his responses to yellow vest concerns on Monday night — but canceled the speech because the Notre Dame fire broke out. He’s now expected to do so next Thursday.
Some yellow vest critics accuse Macron of trying to exploit the fire for political gain. One protester carried a sign targeting Macron that read: “Pyromaniac — we are going to carbonize you.”
Another huge sign read: “Victor Hugo thanks all the generous donors ready to save Notre Dame and proposes that they do the same thing with Les Miserables,” referring to the famed author’s novels about the cathedral and the struggles of France’s poor.
Some prominent yellow vest figures who had stopped protesting said they were returning to the streets Saturday out of an even greater sense of being overlooked since the Notre Dame tragedy.
Anti-rich messages have flourished on social media in recent days as yellow vest protesters exhorted wealthy donors to be more generous with France’s working class.


Citing jobs, Trump claims victory over virus, economic collapse

Updated 5 min 8 sec ago

Citing jobs, Trump claims victory over virus, economic collapse

  • US tops COVID-19 mortality rally with 108,000 people confirmed dead
  • Trump says more than 1 million Americans would have died had he not acted

WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump effectively claimed victory over the economic crisis and COVID-19 on Friday as well as major progress against racial inequality, heartily embracing a better-than-expected jobs report in hopes of convincing a discouraged nation he deserves another four years in office.
In lengthy White House remarks amid sweeping social unrest, a still-rising virus death toll and Depression-level unemployment, the Republican president focused on what he said was improvement in all areas.
He was quick to seize the positive jobs report at a time when his political standing is at one of the weakest points of his presidency less than five months before the general election. Just 2 in 10 voters believe the country is headed in the right direction, a Monmouth University poll found earlier in the week.
The president also addressed the protests, which have calmed in recent days, that followed the death of George Floyd, the black man who died last week when a white police officer knelt for minutes on his neck.
Claiming improvements everywhere, Trump said, “Hopefully George is looking down right now and saying this is a great thing that’s happening for our country. ... This is a great, great day in terms of equality.”
Trump condemned “what happened last week,” said no other president has done as much for black Americans, and declared that an economic rebound was “the greatest thing that can happen for race relations.”
Putting words in the dead man’s mouth drew quick criticism, including from likely presidential foe Joe Biden, who said it was “despicable.” The Trump campaign said any reports saying Trump was contending Floyd would be praising the economic news were “wrong, purposefully misrepresented, and maliciously crafted.”
A few blocks away, city workers painted a huge “Black Lives Matter” sign on 16th Street leading to the White House.
Politically, few things matter more to Trump’s future than the state of the US economy, which was all but shut down by state governments this spring to prevent greater spread of the deadly coronavirus. Defying health experts, the president has aggressively encouraged states to re-open and has assailed state leaders by name who resist.
At the same time, he’s taken an uneven approach to explosive racial tensions in the wake of Floyd’s death. As he has in recent days, Trump on Friday offered a sympathetic message to Floyd in one breath and lashed out at protests in his name the next.
Local governments “have to dominate the streets,” Trump said. “You can’t let what’s happening happen.”
The president spoke in the Rose Garden after the Labor Department said that US employers added 2.5 million workers to their payrolls last month. Economists had been expecting them instead to slash 8 million jobs in continuing fallout from the pandemic.
The jobless rate, at 13.3%, is still on par with what the nation witnessed during the Great Depression. And for the second straight month, the Labor Department acknowledged making errors in counting the unemployed during the virus outbreak, saying the real figure is worse than the numbers indicate.
Still, after weeks of dire predictions by economists that unemployment in May could hit 20% or more, the news was seen as evidence that the collapse may have bottomed out in April.
Friday’s report made for some tricky reaction gymnastics for Trump’s Democratic election opponent, Biden, who sought to contrast the improving figures with the fact that millions of Americans are still out of work. The high jobless rate, he said, is due to the Trump administration mishandling the response to the pandemic.
“Let’s be clear about something: The depth of this jobs crisis is not attributable to an act of God but to a failure of a president,” Biden declared in a Delaware speech shortly after Trump spoke.
The presumptive Democratic nominee said Trump was patting himself on the back as America faces some of its sternest challenges ever.
“It’s time for him to step out of his own bunker, take a look around at the consequences,” Biden said.
It’s unclear how many jobs that were lost as a result of the pandemic are permanently gone or whether the reopenings in states will create a second surge of COVID-19 deaths. In addition, the report from mid-May doesn’t reflect the effect that protests across the nation have had on business.
Many economists digging into the jobs report saw a struggle ahead after the burst of hiring last month.
Friday’s report reflected the benefits of nearly $3 trillion in government aid instead of an organic return to normal. Only one of every nine jobs lost because of the pandemic has been recovered, and the specter of corporate bankruptcies hangs over the recovery.
Much of the growth came from 2.7 million workers who were temporarily laid-off going back to their jobs. This likely reflected $510 billion in forgivable loans from the Payroll Protection Program to nearly 4.5 million employers — an administration initiative that helped push the unemployment rate down to 13.3% from 14.7% in April. African American unemployment rose slightly to 16.8 percent.
Late Friday, Trump signed legislation to add new flexibility to the PPP, giving business owners more flexibility to use taxpayer subsidies and extending the life of the program.
As the money from the PPP runs out, there could be another round of layoffs, warned Sung Won Sohn, an economist at Loyola Marymount University.
“There will be continuing residual fear and uncertainty,” Sohn said.
Trump on Friday defended his handling of the pandemic, contending that more than 1 million Americans would have died had he not acted. More than 108,000 people are confirmed to have lost their lives due to the coronavirus, according to a count from Johns Hopkins University.
Now, though, Trump said states and cities should be lifting remaining restrictions. “I don’t know why they continue to lock down,” he said of some jurisdictions that have maintained closings.
Former South Carolina Gov. and Rep. Mark Sanford, a Republican who briefly mounted a primary challenge to Trump last year, dismissed any employment gain due to federal deficit spending.
“What we have right now is federal policy aimed solely at boosting numbers that obviously would help in a reelection effort,” Sanford said in an interview. “We’re literally buying jobs.”
But there was little sign of concern among Trump and his Republican allies in Washington.
“This shows that what we’ve been doing is right,” Trump said of the jobs numbers. He added: “Today is probably the greatest comeback in American history.”
He pitched himself as key to a “rocket ship” rebound that would fail only if he doesn’t win reelection.
“I’m telling you next year, unless something happens or the wrong people get in here, this will turn around,” Trump said.