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Paris cleans up as Macron prepares to respond to ‘yellow vest’ riots

By Reuters For Mkarimu Radio

A man sweeps the sidewalk near a vandalized truck the day after clashes during a national day of protest by the “yellow vests” movement in Bordeaux, France, December 9, 2018. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau

Workers in Paris swept up broken glass and towed away burnt-out cars on Sunday after the latest “yellow vest” riots, while the government warned of slower economic growth and said that President Emmanuel Macron would address the nation this week.

On Saturday, anti-government protesters wrecked havoc in the city for the fourth weekend in a row, throwing stones, torching cars and vandalizing shops and restaurants.

Across the city, bank branch offices, toy shops, opticians and other retail outlets had boarded up storefronts smashed by protesters, and walls were covered in anti-Macron slogans.

“You won’t make it past Christmas, Emmanuel,” read the graffiti on a boarded-up shop near the Champs Elysees boulevard.

Macron, elected in May 2017, is facing mounting criticism for not speaking in public in more than a week as violence worsened.

The upheaval in the Christmas shopping season has dealt a heavy blow to retailing, the tourist industry and the manufacturing sector as road blocks disrupt supply chains.

On Saturday, the Eiffel Tower and several museums closed their doors for security reasons, as did top Paris department stores on what should have been a prime shopping weekend.

The protest movement will have “a severe impact” on the French economy, Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire told Reuters on Sunday as he toured an upmarket central Paris neighborhood that had seen heavy looting Saturday night.

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“We must expect a new slowdown of economic growth at year-end due to the “yellow vest” protests,” Le Maire said.

In the middle of last month, before the protests, the central bank forecast 0.4 percent fourth-quarter growth. Economists said then that the economy would need to grow at 0.8 percent in the final three months to hit the government’s 1.7 percent annual growth forecast.

Everything Is Broken

Gregory Caray, owner of two furniture shops in the heart of Paris, said he was relieved to see that his shop had not been vandalized, but the protective wooden boards over its windows were plastered with graffiti.

“You can understand the yellow vests movement. But this is completely unacceptable. It has been three weekends in a row now. Look around you, everything is broken, damaged. All the shops had to close and spend money to shut everything up, and it happens every week,” he told Reuters.

Named after the fluorescent safety vests that French motorists must carry, the “yellow vest” protests erupted on Nov. 17, when nearly 300,000 demonstrators nationwide took to the streets to denounce high living costs and Macron’s liberal economic reforms.

The government canceled a planned rise in fuel taxes last Tuesday to try to defuse the situation but the protests have morphed into a broader anti-Macron rebellion.

“I don’t know if Macron’s resignation is necessary, but he must completely change course,” said Bertrand Cruzatier as he watched cleaners scrub out anti-Macron graffiti at Place de la Republique.

A banner hanging from the statue of Marianne, symbol of the French republic, read: “Give back the money”.

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Macron’s last major televised address was on Nov 27, when he said he would not be bounced into changing policy by “thugs”.

Fight Until Easter

Government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux said Macron would make “important announcements” early in the coming week.

“However, not all the problems of the ‘yellow vest’ protesters will be solved by waving a magic wand,” he said.

Yellow vest protesters demand lower taxes, higher minimum wages and better pension benefits. But, mindful of France’s deficit and not wanting to flout EU rules, Macron has scant wriggle room for more concessions.

Foreign Minister Jean-Yves le Drian said the yellow vest movement expressed a deep sense of inequality among French people.

“We need a new social contract for the 21st century,” he told LCI televison.

Yellow vest protesters were unimpressed with the government’s overtures, continuing their blockade of traffic roundabouts nationwide and vowing to fight on.

“We want our share of the pie, like everyone. I will stay here until Easter, if necessary,” a protester called Didier told BFM television in Frejus, southern France.

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