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Protesters Across France Oppose Plans To Raise Gas Prices

Nov 23, 2018
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

As he tries to transform the economy of France, President Emmanuel Macron has faced off and won against organized unions, but now he faces a problem from a leaderless grassroots protest movement which threatens to derail his plans. It is called the yellow vest protest movement, and it began last week in response to the government's plans to raise gas prices.

Here's NPR's Eleanor Beardsley.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Speaking French).

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: An irritated driver gets out of his car and demands that the yellow-vested protesters let him through. Scenes like this have been playing out all week at toll roads and intersections across France. The protesters are known as gilets jaunes or yellow vests because they wear the fluorescent vest every French motorist must keep in his car.

CHRISTIAN MAKARIAN: It's a spontaneous movement that was considered with disdain by the government. It was nothing at the beginning.

BEARDSLEY: That's Christian Makarian with news magazine L'Express. He says the movement has now swelled out of control, and nobody knows how far it will go. Among its ranks are retirees and the unemployed, farmers, housewives and people who have never protested before. One newspaper called it the revenge of the diesel class. What unites them is the economic pinch and anger at a president who seems far removed from their daily hardships.

At more than $6 a gallon, the French already pay some of the highest prices for gasoline. Sixty percent of the pump price is taxes, and now, the government wants to raise them to finance the country's transition to a green economy. Mark Le Fur, a congressman from Brittany, says that's a nebulous concept for most people.

MARC LE FUR: (Through interpreter) It's unbearable. I am a rural congressman, and my people work far from their homes. They are blue-collar workers with shift work and low salaries, and there is no public transportation. A year ago, the president encouraged people to take jobs far from home, and now, he's making it too costly to do so.

BEARDSLEY: Despite annoyances, injuries and even two accidental deaths caused by the protests, a poll out this morning shows 77 percent of the French support the yellow jackets. After refusing to budge, last night, Macron said his government would announce some concessions next Tuesday. Meanwhile, some 30,000 yellow vest protesters are expected to descend on Paris tomorrow and have threatened to bring the French capital to a standstill.

(SOUNDBITE OF VEHICLES HONKING)

BEARDSLEY: Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.