French police moved to dislodge protesters blocking roads and fuel depots on Tuesday as the government took a harder line on the so-called “yellow vest” movement against environmental taxes on fuel.
Hundreds of thousands of people blockaded roads across France on Saturday wearing high-visibility yellow vests in a national wave of defiance aimed at centrist President Emmanuel Macron.
The disruption underlined the anger and frustration felt by many motorists, particularly in rural areas or small towns, who are fed up with what they see as Macron’s anti-car policies, including tax hikes on diesel.
Interior Minister Christophe Castaner has instructed police to begin breaking up the remaining roadblocks, particularly those around fuel depots and sites of strategic importance.
“We can see today that there are real excesses from a movement that was for the most part conducted in good spirit on Saturday,” he told France 2 TV.
One person was accidentally killed and 530 people have been injured, 17 seriously, over four days of protests that have come to encompass a wide variety of grievances over the rising cost of living.
Several of the injuries were caused by motorists trying to force their way through roadblocks, but some protesters have also been accused of intimidating people or putting their lives in danger.
A 32-year-old man with a history of violence was given a four-month prison sentence by a Strasbourg court for endangering lives by forming a human chain to cross a motorway.
Elsewhere, four men in the southeastern city of Saint-Etienne were arrested and charged with planning to take advantage of the heavy police deployment at the weekend to mount a terror attack, according to Le Parisien newspaper.
On Tuesday, the movement appeared to be losing steam with only around 10,000 people still manning the barricades nationwide, down from nearly 300,000 on Saturday.
Further protests are planned at the weekend with some calling for a blockade of Paris.
‘Much more than fuel’
The “yellow vest” movement, which began on social media and has won backing from opposition parties on both the left and right, accuses Macron of squeezing the less well-off while reducing taxes on the rich.
“It’s about much more than fuel. They (the government) have left us with nothing,” Dominique, a 50-year-old unemployed technician told AFP at a roadblock in the town of Martigues, near the southern city of Marseille.
Macron’s government, which is trying to improve its environmental credentials, has vowed not to back down on trying to wean people off their cars through fuel taxes.
The government has unveiled a 500-million-euro package of measures to help low-income households, including energy subsidies and higher scrappage bonuses for the purchase of cleaner vehicles.