Fewer French Yellow Vests Turn Out for Seventh Weekly Protest

(Bloomberg) -- France’s “Yellow Vests” turned out in cities across the country for a seventh Saturday to protest the rising cost of living and a lack of purchasing power, while numbers continued their downward trend since the weekly demonstrations began in November.

French television showed images of several hundred protesters gathering earlier in the day outside the offices of a number of TV stations in southwest Paris, leading to brief scuffles in which police used tear gas.

Traffic on Paris’s Champs-Elysees avenue, the scene of violent clashes on previous weekends, was disrupted late afternoon as police pushed back further groups of protesters.

Fewer French Yellow Vests Turn Out for Seventh Weekly Protest

Outside the French capital, close to a thousand Yellow Vests gathered in the southern port city of Marseille, while about 10 people were arrested in Amiens, north of Paris, where protests had been banned after unrest last weekend, the Agence France-Presse news agency reported. In Rouen, northwest of Paris, the gate of the Bank of France was set on fire.

French media estimated turnout at around a thousand in Paris, Nantes and Rouen, with 2,400 protesters in Bordeaux, in southwest France. The overall number of people taking part dropped to 12,000 from 38,600 last Saturday, LCI TV said.

Some Yellow Vests were planning to gather again on Champs-Elysees during Monday’s New Year’s Eve celebrations, AFP added, when President Emmanuel Macron is due to make a traditional annual address to the nation.

The Yellow Vests protests, named after the high-visibility jackets motorists must keep in their cars, started in early November with road blockages across France. An initial demand for lower prices at the pump expanded into general anger about the rising cost of living and Macron’s governing style.

‘National Cohesion’

The protests led to violent clashes with police in the French capital in early December, with looting, torched cars and damage to shops, restaurants and property. They prompted Macron to cancel further carbon taxes planned for 2019, and he pledged other tax cuts and welfare payments in an effort to calm the movement.

While the number of people protesting has since dropped significantly, after peaking near 300,000 across the country on the first Saturday, Macron has been unable to quell the discontent.

The president was taking time off with his family until Sunday, LCI television reported on Saturday, citing the Elysee palace. In his annual address a year ago, Macron predicted 2018 would be a year of “national cohesion,” saying that irreconcilable divisions had undermined the country.

As it tries to respond to a revolt initially caused by its carbon taxes, the government is also facing a separate petition for its supposed failure to act against global warming. Launched less than two weeks ago, the petition is close to meeting its goal of 2 million signatures calling for legal action against the French state.

The government’s higher gasoline taxes had been intended to subsidize purchases of cleaner cars and home heating systems. It now has to find other resources to fund those programs.

Macron said the measures announced in mid-December would increase France’s 2019 deficit, while the Bank of France and Insee statistics agency have cut their fourth-quarter economic growth forecasts in half. French retail associations have put lost revenue in the run-up to Christmas at 2 billion euros ($2.3 billion).

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.