10 Dec 2018

Protests 'a crisis' for France as 1700 arrests made

5:53 am on 10 December 2018

The "yellow vest" protests have been "a catastrophe" for the French economy, the finance minister says.

Two Gilet Jaune near a barricade on fire near the Gare Saint-Lazare on December 8, 2018 in Paris, France.

Protesters set fire to a barricade in Paris yesterday. Photo: AFP

French President Emmanuel Macron will meet representatives of trade unions, employers' organisations and associations of local elected officials on Monday, an Elysee palace source said.

France has seen four consecutive weekends of demonstrations against fuel tax rises, high living costs, and other issues.

About 125,000 protesters took to the streets yesterday, with more than 1700 people arrested.

Several tourist sites, including the Eiffel Tower and Louvre Museum, were closed at the weekend.

Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire called the situation "a crisis" for both society and democracy.

"It's a catastrophe for commerce, it's a catastrophe for our economy," he said during a visit to shops in Paris that had been damaged during the protests.

The capital was particularly badly hit, with windows smashed, cars burned, and shops looted, as 10,000 people took part in demonstrations.

"There was much more damage yesterday than a week ago" because Saturday's protests were more dispersed, deputy mayor Emmanuel Gregoire told local radio.

However, he added that there had been fewer injuries compared with last week.

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian responded angrily to US President Donald Trump, who yesterday in tweets appeared to suggest the Paris Climate Agreement was the reason for the unrest.

"I say this to Donald Trump and the French president says it too: leave our nation be," Mr Le Drian said.

President Emmanuel Macron - who many protesters want to stand down - will address the nation in the coming days.

He is expected to meet trade union and business leaders tomorrow, according to union sources.

Mr Macron has kept a low profile so far during the protests.

It is too early to calculate the full economic cost - but it is clear the damage has been severe.

Le Parisien newspaper reported that in the capital about 50 vehicles had been burnt and dozens of businesses vandalised, with some of them looted.

On Friday, the French retail federation told Reuters news agency that retailers had lost about 1 billion euros since the protests first began on 18 November.

Mr Le Maire said last week, before the most recent protests, that the restaurant trade had declined by between 20 percent and 50 percent.

There are concerns the protests could lead to a drop in tourism. Paris was visited by a record number of tourists in 2017 - more than 40 million, the Paris Tourism Office said last month.


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