They came in their tens of thousands, for a second weekend running, demanding change and demonstrating against escalating costs of living and rising inequalities.
“We just want our government to listen to us,” said Laetitia Dewalle, an organiser of the “yellow vest” protests which brought cities across France to a standstill on Saturday.
She was, it now seems, in for disappointment.
As the protests turned violent and demonstrators clashed with police, President Emmanuel Macron appeared unwilling to engage with the reasons behind why 109,000 had taken to streets all over the country.
“Shame on all the people who assaulted [the police],” he tweeted instead. “Shame to those who voluntarily assaulted citizens and reporters. Shame on those who tried to intimidate our elected officials.”
His interior minister Christophe Castaner went further, calling the protesters “seditious” and labelling them supporters of the far right.
The abrasive statements followed a day in which tear gas and water cannons were turned on marchers in Paris – a minority of who were seen ripping up pavements, building street blockades and starting fires.
The Champs-Elysee was brought to a standstill as running battles under cover of smoke took place. At one point, demonstrators set fire to a shed on wheels and rolled it towards officers protecting key sites. Some 42 people were arrested in the capital and another 88 across the country. Six people – including two police officers – were reported injured.
Yet analysts in the country widely agreed that to call the demonstrations the work of the far right seems to have widely misread the public mood.
This weekend’s demonstrations had been called “act two” in a campaign which started last Saturday when some 280,000 took to the streets.
The protests started as an outcry against the rising cost of fuel duty which, in some cases, has gone up by 23 per cent in just 12 months. But it has since grown to reflect wider grievances about the rising cost of living, growing inequalities and anger at Mr Macron’s inability to deliver the changes he promised before his election.
Polls suggest almost 80 per cent of French people support the yellow vests – so called because protestors wear the high-viz jackets which French motorists have to carry in their car. Even more think Mr Macron should abandon plans to impose even higher taxes on petrol and diesel.
“We’re here because we’ve had enough,” Joel Mouilleseaux, a 24-year-old student told The Guardian. “It’s always the same people who have to pay for the madness of others.
“We have to work to pay, work some more to pay some more and it’s been like that for years. It’s been like it since I was born, president after president, and now we’re saying ‘That’s enough’.
“I want to be heard, listened to and have a response.”
Another, Sylvie Poireau, a 46-year-old from a small town outside Paris, told The Daily Telegraph: “We’re made to pay higher taxes while they’ve scrapped the wealth tax on the rich. My daughter’s handicapped and I struggle at the end of every month to buy food.”
Far-left leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon warned about the potential consequences of not taking the yellow vests, known as the “gilet jaunes”, seriously: “History shows that when taxes are not accepted, that starts revolutions in France.”
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