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    French president Emmanuel Macron addresses troops of the Barkhane force at the Barkhane tactical command center in N'Djamena on December 22, 2018

    Macron at 'Critical' Standoff Stage With Yellow Vests Protesters - Scholar

    © AFP 2019 / Ludovic MARIN
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    Despite the French government launching a ban on Yellow Vest protests, over 40,000 French took to the streets of the country over the weekend to protest against the Macron government, even more than the previous weekend.

    This weekend’s rallies were also tainted by the plight of one elderly activist in Nice, who received head injuries after police charged protestors. Saturday saw soldiers deployed for the first time to the demonstrations, which were partially banned in some areas of France after violent protests took place on the Champs-Elysees a week ago.

    Sputnik spoke with Dr. Paul Smith, Associate Professor in French and Francophone Studies at the University of Nottingham for more insight on the issue.

    Sputnik: An investigation is being opened into how an elderly protestor ended up with head injuries in Nice at the weekend. The authorities’ response has been to remind people that the Yellow Vest protests are now banned; do you think we are likely to see more violence as a result of the ban, are the police likely to become more heavy-handed?

    Paul Smith: Well, I don't think the police could get much more heavy-handed; one of the features of the last few weeks of the Gilets Jaunes has been an escalation of violence on both sides and police brutality is always investigated in France and the French have been criticised by the UN for precisely for that.

    What happened at the weekend is not new, and the fact that the victim was 70 years old is of course a cause for concern and the government won't be pleased with the way the government has handled things. So, I think, we have to put into perspective that the government will need to back their law enforcers but they may well be giving people a good talking-to in the background.

    Sputnik: The Yellow Vest protests, which began of course in response to a proposed fuel tax raise back in November last year, triggered a public consultation, set up by President Macron earlier this year which lasted for 2 months. It was launched in a bid to reach out to the French people, listen to their concerns and ultimately, quell the protests. But 19 weeks after they began, with the consultation, termed the Great Debate, having begun and ended, the Yellow Vest protests have not ceased. How successful has the Great Debate been do you think, given the fact that we saw 40,000 people take to the streets across France at the weekend?

    Paul Smith: Well, I think that what you've seen in terms of the modest rise in numbers at the weekend, going up from 32,000 to 40,000 — so still not getting up to the levels of early January, what you're seeing is kind of pressure from the Gilets Jaunes to say, well, 'just because you did alright with this process, now you've got to deliver'.

    I would expect that. The people who participated, ordinary people who blocked roundabouts, or who protested in all sorts of ways, not the silent majority of the Gilets Jaunes movement because they weren't silent, but the great bulk of the movement, the 288,000 people who protested in November, they expect an outcome.

    And that's the really big challenge that now faces the government. So we've gone from one phase — kind of a phase that Macron and his party are used to because that's the way he launched his old party and these public consultations. We're now on to the next stage which is going to be important, significant, critical even.

    Sputnik: Has part of the problem been Macron's attitude towards the protestors since the beginning of the movement?

    Paul Smith: Yes, I think that you're right. Sometimes you think 'Who's advising him? Who is he talking to about how to respond to people?' Sometimes people talk about Theresa May's lack of empathy and sometimes Macron has that too.

    It's one of the contradictions that he comes across really well during the Grands Debats and has tremendous stamina. But responding to these kind of incidents, it's a bit too kind of formalized; 'Oh, you shouldn't have been there'.

    Well, she was, and she got injured. That's not a very clever, smart way to respond.

    Having said that there is a process whereby the French police investigate these things and that will be investigated and the upshot will be probably, if the officer in question is found guilty of over-stepping the mark then there will be disciplinary procedures.

    Views and opinions expressed in this article are those of Dr. Paul Smith and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.


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