France's Yellow Vest Protests Abate as Fewer Take to Streets

(Bloomberg) -- Protests led by the grassroots Yellow Vest movement abated across France on Saturday, a signal that a call to mobilize for a sixth straight weekend failed to maintain the momentum.

An estimated 23,800 protested nationwide as of 2 p.m. local time, down from 33,500 at the same time a week ago, Agence France Presse reported, citing the interior ministry. Authorities stopped 109 people for questioning in Paris, BFM TV reported, citing the Prefecture de police. One of the movement’s spokesmen, Eric Drouet, was among those arrested in the French capital, various media reported.

Earlier in the day, AFP reported a driver died after his car hit a truck that was stopped by a Yellow Vest blockade in Perpignan, in the south of France near the Spanish border.

The accident late Friday brings the total number of deaths related to the Yellow Vest movement to 10, according to AFP. The grassroots movement has protested across France for weeks, calling for lower fuel taxes, as well as an improvement in living conditions.

Participation Wanes

A week ago, about 66,000 people joined nationwide protests during the day, about half the number that had participated a week earlier, and well below the more than 300,000 on the first “Day of Action” on Nov. 17.

French public opinion still largely backs the demands of the Yellow Vests, but support has declined after President Emmanuel Macron made concessions and some protesters turned violent, burning cars and looting stores.

People across France have been donning high-visibility vests for more than a month to express a range of grievances and demands, ranging from lower taxes and higher wages to better public services. Recently, the grassroots movement’s demands have focused on allowing more use of referendums to enact laws.

Macron this month announced he’d boost the minimum wage, scrap taxes on overtime and year-end bonuses, and eliminate a new tax on pensions. Most Yellow Vests leaders denounced the measures as inadequate and said protests would continue.

41% Support

The Yellow Vest protests have support of 41 percent of the French, unchanged in a week, an Elabe poll for BFM TV said Wednesday. Of those surveyed, 54 percent said protests should continue, down from 69 percent at the end of November.

Interior Minister Christophe Castaner this week announced that police would start removing blockades at roundabouts, and 170 had been dismantled by Wednesday, the ministry said.

The protests have already bruised the French economy, just as Macron is in need of a boost to help deliver his reform agenda. Consumer spending unexpectedly fell in November and confidence among retailers slumped to its lowest in three years this month, statistics agency Insee said Friday in its last data releases before Christmas.

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