Nearly 300,000 French protesters participated in the gilets jaunes protest, a series of blockades and demonstrations against a rise in fuel taxes, over the weekend.
Taking place across more than 2,000 locations, the gilets jaunes protest – so called because demonstrators wore the high visibility yellow vests (“gilets jaunes”) which French motorists are obliged to carry in their cars in case of a breakdown – saw participants express their anger at the rising cost of fuel, which will be augmented by an increase in fuel taxes in 2019.
227 protesters were injured, the majority of which were caused by drivers attempting to force their way through blockades; one 63-year-old woman attending the gilets jaunes protest in Savoie was killed after a driver “panicked” and accelerated into protesters. 117 people were arrested and 73 were later taken into police custody. Police in Paris deployed tear gas to disperse blockades.
A number of French petrol stations joined the gilets jaunes protest, with branches in Brittany, Dordogne and Normandy closing for the day. The SGP Police-FSMI FO police union urged its members not to issue any tickets on Saturday, in solidarity with the protest. Several high profile politicians, including Jean-Luc Melenchon, attended gilets jaunes blockades.
The tax rises which prompted the gilets jaunes protest were introduced by President Emmanuel Macron as part of a larger, EU-wide attempt to reduce the emissions produced by Member States in the face of a growing threat from climate change. The price of diesel has risen by 23 per cent in the last 12 months, which Macron claimed was due to the rising global costs of crude oil. The French government has offered grants to help citizens who wish to exchange older petrol or diesel cars for newer models which produce fewer emissions, but critics say the incentives are insufficient.
While the rising fuel prices are meant to mitigate France’s environmental impact, gilets jaunes protest groups pointed out that the costs disproportionately hit low income workers, particularly those who live in rural areas, who need to drive to work.
By Saturday evening more than 1,400 blockades were still active, with protesters declaring their intention to stay overnight. The gilets jaunes protest has drawn strong support from the French people, with 78 per cent saying they believed the blockades were justified.