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'Yellow Vest' Protesters Vs. French Police


And now to France, where a French government spokesman says President Emmanuel Macron will make a major announcement tomorrow, following another round of nationwide protests Saturday by the yellow vest movement, who were initially protesting a fuel tax and the rising cost of living.


UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting in French).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Those are the sounds from yesterday, where police managed to avoid the kind of rioting seen a week ago in the streets of Paris and other cities. More than 1,700 people were arrested, though. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley joins us now from Paris with the latest. Good morning.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: Eleanor, tell us about the protest yesterday.

BEARDSLEY: Well, we saw a lot of the same things as last week - tear gas fired as police tried to push protesters down the avenues. You know, there was this cat and mouse between the protesters and police. Some cars were set on fire. And it was tense in Paris. And the city today is saying there was a lot of damage. But the police seemed to keep control more than last week.

First of all, they had double the number of police on the ground. There were 8,000 police on the ground. And they had a new strategy of arresting potential troublemakers before they could even sow chaos. So if you were found with a hammer in your knapsack, you'd be arrested. By nightfall, the protests were over. But, you know, most of the protesters were peaceful. I spoke with 65-year-old Nadine Vershatse. Here's what she told me.

NADINE VERSHATSE: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: So she says, "We're peaceful and in solidarity today, but we're fed up." She says, "France may not seem like a poor country, but you have - we see all the misery of France in the streets today. And we want a dialogue and answers from the president." So there were very sincere people there who say they just can't make it any more.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah, so less protests on the street, but this is still not good for Emmanuel Macron. What will the government do?

BEARDSLEY: No, it's not at all. So last night, the prime minister spoke. And he said, it's time to stop the violence and begin the dialogue. So that's the first thing, Lulu. We have to stop these weekly protests that have served as a sort of staging ground for the rioting. The government admits, as does much of the political class, that no one saw this coming. Yet, the protesters say it's been growing for years.

Macron is expected to do more. He gave up the gas tax, but that wasn't enough. People say it was too little too late. He's expected to give more measures for the poorer working class and to boost purchasing power. And he will probably have to reinstate attacks on the super rich. He scrapped it to encourage investors. But people say that was wrong. And the poor say, we care about the planet, but it can't be saved only on our backs.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So what's next?

BEARDSLEY: Well, no one really knows. But what this movement has shown is there's a lot of anger over Macron. And he seems very disconnected. I want you to listen to somebody. This guy, Patrice Heubert, who was not a protester - he's actually a very well-off guy who lives in the upscale neighborhood around the Arc de Triomphe. But he says this is unlike anything we've seen before. Listen to him here.

PATRICE HEUBERT: So this is a crisis of political. This is a crisis of identity, also - and of course, of purchase power. That's a mix of three different crises.

BEARDSLEY: Now, Heubert says Macron has lost control. Here he is.

HEUBERT: The way he managed the situation the last two weeks, he's not showing him, you know, being a strong leader in terms of, you know, managing a crisis. He has been quite poor in terms of communication. I think he lost almost the link with the people and will would not recover it.

BEARDSLEY: What's very strange, Lulu, is this guy has the profile of someone who would have voted for Macron. He says he didn't. I said, but who can save the country now? He says only the far right has links with the people and the idea to reform the country. He says France may need to go the way of Italy and Austria with a far right populist government.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Eleanor Beardsley in Paris. Thank you.

BEARDSLEY: Thank you, Lulu. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lulu Garcia-Navarro is the host of Weekend Edition Sunday and one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. She is infamous in the IT department of NPR for losing laptops to bullets, hurricanes, and bomb blasts.