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Yellow Vests: Renewed mobilization

For the start of the new academic year, a few thousand Yellow Vests gathered in several major cities in France, marking an increase in mobilization after the summer. Clashes erupted in Montpellier and Rouen in particular.

Published: September 8, 2019, 10:34 am

    For the 43rd Saturday in a row, on September 7, citizens mobilized in many cities of the country. This mobilization contrasted sharply with the weaker action during summer.

    In Montpellier, they were between 1 500 (according to the prefecture) and 3 000 demonstrators (according to the organisers) to gather in the city center after a “national” call to demonstrate in this city in which the mobilization has always been high since the beginning of the movement.

    “It’s the return of the Yellow Vests!” said Odile, a health care aide, as quoted by AFP, while her friends sang in chorus on the steps of the Opéra Comédie: “We’re here, even if Macron does not want us to be!” Others chanted: “Revolution!”

    The statues of the fountain of Three Graces, emblematic of the Place de la Comédie, were covered with yellow vests and a banner “ADP-FDJ, France is no longer for sale”, in reference to the privatization announced regarding Aéroports de Paris and Française des Jeux. Dozens of protesters also opened umbrellas in a tribute to protesters in Hong Kong.

    In the afternoon, cafes on the Place de la Comédie had to clear away their terraces in an emergency after projectiles were launched. The march went back to the prefecture, the usual place of confrontation since the beginning of the movement.

    Skirmishes between law enforcement and demonstrators soon followed, especially in front of the station, with projectiles being launched by some protesters helmeted and hooded, and dressed in black. Tear gas cannisters from the police were fired in front of the building to prevent access.

    The prefecture reported two arrests for “projectile throwing, incendiary devices and possession of knives”. A police car was set on fire and according to images, Yellow Vests quickly intervened to prevent the spread of the fire to the adjacent building.

    At the end of the afternoon, the security forces activated the water cannons to disperse the protesters.

    And while the presidential party was busy organising its first summer university, their executives remained convinced – including Gilles Le Gendre – that Yellow Vests are now a thing of the past, since the executive has responded to the demands of the movement.

    Like the parties of the new world, La Republique en marche (LREM) launched on September 7 in Bordeaux its summer university to which some 3 000 people were invited, in particular to prepare for the municipal elections against a backdrop of tensions within the party itself.

    These tensions are linked to the process of nominating candidates for the elections of 2020, with members denouncing the excessive verticality of the presidential party. For LREM’s first summer university, this media event was of paramount importance.

    Macronistas have not been able to end the stormy cycle of Yellow Vests protests, despite their claims and multiple declarations brimming with confidence.

    On September 6, the president of the LREM group in the National Assembly Gilles Le Gendre told broadcaster LCI that he “has the impression that the crisis of Yellow Vests is behind us”. And its over “because we’ve provided the right answers,” he added. “Since last winter and spring, we have been at work, telling the Yellow Vests or more exactly the French who could be in the movement of Yellow Vests, we heard you,” he said.

    But were Yellow Vests really heard? On LCI, Philippe de Veulle, lawyer for the movement, believes “that the mobilization is done on social networks” and there is still “a lot of activity”. He added: “Anger is smoldering, there are embers in the embers,” he warned. The Yellow Vest crisis, for him thus remains a latent problem, unresolved.

    Laurent Berger, the secretary general of the CFDT centrist trade union, and one of the most favorable to the government’s liberal reforms, confessed on September 5 in the columns of the regional daily Ouest-France:  ”I’m not guessing, but it is certain that the reasons for triggering this social anger are still there.”

    The most important reason for the existence of the Yellow Vests is the problem of purchasing power, especially among the middle and lower classes, a recent Elabe survey, published on September 4, 2019, showed. Some 75 percent of French people think that the government’s policy changes will not improve purchasing power, 69 percent believe that it will not improve the situation of the country, and 66 percent think that it is not effective to revive the economy.

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