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Protesters And Police Clash In Paris


The Champs-Elysees has become a battleground today. French television has been showing live scenes all day of police firing water cannons and tear gas against protesters who are hurling sticks, bricks and bottles. The crowds are protesting a rise in fuel prices. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley is near the scene. Eleanor, thanks for being with us. How are you doing?

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Hi, Scott. Well, I'm hanging in there. I got a little tang of tear gas in the back of my throat, but...

SIMON: Mercy. The protesters are - they're called the Yellow Jackets. They wear yellow jackets, and they're angry about fuel prices, right?

BEARDSLEY: They are. They're very angry. Every French motorist has to keep this little fluorescent yellow jacket in his car, and that's what they wear. Now, I started watching them this morning on television. And it was like, you know, the police - riot police going down the Champs-Elysees using water cannons, which I've never seen before.

And then I decided to come out. Now it's been going on several hours. I'm several streets away from the Champs-Elysees, Scott, but the people - it's like it's the second revolution coming because people are turning over - they're building barricades in the street. We're still - we've got helicopters overhead. They're still firing tear gas. And everyone around me is wearing a yellow vest.

SIMON: Now, fuel prices have gone up - I have read, I think - 23 percent over the past year. And protesters blame the government for this.

BEARDSLEY: Well, the government - the French pay some of the highest gas prices in the world, like, about more than $6 a gallon, Scott. And the government says it's going to raise the taxes again in January to finance the transition to an ecological economy - you know, more environmentally friendly fuels.

And, you know, for people who have to drive to work - blue-collar workers, just everyday people - this is outrageous. They say they can't make it anymore, so they've come out into the street. And, Scott, this movement has no leaders. There are no unions behind it. There are housewives. There are retirees - regular people. There are people who have never protested before. So it's turned into a movement. No one knows where it's going to go now.

SIMON: And is the government of President Macron in any way threatened by this in the chamber of deputies or...


SIMON: Yes? Go ahead.

BEARDSLEY: Well, I would say, yes, because, at first, Macron ignored this protest. He said, look. France has got to do this to, you know - we've got to get with the future, end our dependence on fossil fuels. But this has only been one week, Scott. It started last weekend. They threatened to shut down Paris today. And from where I am, they've shut down Paris.

The government is in trouble because Macron - this is a demonstration like we've never seen before. They say that Macron is deaf. He is far removed from the problems of the little people. And I've been, you know, hearing people very angry out here today. And this is just a different kind of protest than we've ever seen before. The government doesn't know what to do.

After ignoring it for a week, on Thursday, Macron said he would offer some concessions. Those are supposed to come in an announcement on Tuesday. But I don't know if it's going to be enough because anger is really building out here.

SIMON: So near as you can tell, I mean, there's no spokespeople, no central authority? This seems to be spontaneous?

BEARDSLEY: It's absolutely spontaneous. It's very strange. I mean, people - OK, the demonstration today has been infiltrated by - you have these people who love to come and hang on to every march that happens...

SIMON: Yeah.

BEARDSLEY: ...And they're called casseurs - breakers. They love to smash windows. They love to tear stuff up. And actually, the interior minister said that Marine Le Pen - that's the far-right leader - sent out far-right, you know, hooligans to cause havoc. So she, of course, denies that. But in every demonstration in France, these young men - they wear hoods, and they love to come out. So there's definitely that element.

And I've been talking to people out here. You know, a father had his 6-year-old daughter out here. He's not out there smashing things. So they're angry. They feel like their march is being taken over. But I can hear them screaming, Macron resign, way up, chanting in the crowd. So yes, people are causing, you know, damage and havoc, but there are regular people who are just angry.

SIMON: NPR's Eleanor Beardsley on the streets of Paris. Eleanor, thanks very, very much for being with us.

BEARDSLEY: You're welcome, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.