Yellow vest protesters still block French traffic circles
PARIS (AP) — Yellow vest protesters occupied dozens of traffic roundabouts across France today even as their movement for economic justice appeared to be losing momentum on the fifth straight weekend of protests.
The road blockades remained despite a call by Interior Minister Christophe Castaner to free the roundabouts from the traffic chaos created by the protests. Eight people have died in incidents tied to the yellow vest movement, mostly from traffic accidents linked to roads blocked by protesters.
The demonstrators are demanding more measures to help France's workers and retirees and want top officials in President Emmanuel Macron's centrist government to resign, including Macron himself.
Despite the cold weather, protesters occupying a roundabout near the southern city of Orange close to a major highway pledged to keep holding more demonstrations, including blocking fuel depots.
"Mr. Castaner, if you want us to clear roundabouts, you will need to offer your resignation. We don't need bandits of your kind," a protester identified as Nicolas told the BFM TV channel.
Some yellow vest protesters — whose movement takes its name from the safety garb that all French motorists must carry — set up a small fire with wooden planks and held a barbecue at a roundabout near the city of Reims in the Champagne region. Some of them wore Santa hats and deployed a banner that read "Revolution 2018."
On Saturday, yellow vest demonstrators took to the streets in cities across France, including in Paris, but in far fewer numbers than on previous weekends: 69,000 compared to 125,000 a week before. Paris police had to fire tear gas and water cannon across the Champs-Elysees and some protesters scuffled with police.
In an effort to defuse France's social crisis, Macron has announced a series of measures aimed at improving people's spending power.
The package, which includes a 100-euro ($113) monthly increase to the minimum wage, might have played a role in deterring protests but did not help improve Macron's popularity. According to an opinion poll published Sunday by the Le Journal du Dimanche newspaper, Macron's approval rate dipped to 23 percent in the last month.
The yellow vests movement brings together people of all political backgrounds with a multitude of demands.
Among the most popular in recent days is the demand to introduce in the French constitution a "citizens' initiative referendum" that would allow citizens to propose new laws. This idea is supported by politicians across the political spectrum, including far-right leader Marine Le Pen and leftist Jean-Luc Melenchon.