French paramedics join protests as PM meets with opposition

Published 03.12.2018 17:20
Ambulance workers block the bridge leading the National Assembly, background, in Paris, Monday, Dec. 3, 2018. (AP Photo)
Ambulance workers block the bridge leading the National Assembly, background, in Paris, Monday, Dec. 3, 2018. (AP Photo)

French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe met with political rivals Monday in a bid to ease protesters' anger after facing widespread criticism following violent anti-government protests that rocked Paris.

Philippe and President Emmanuel Macron have been lambasted for their handling of the crisis, which has led to three deaths, and hundreds of injuries and arrests. After meeting with the prime minister, Socialist leader Olivier Faure urged Philippe to drop the tax hikes and to restore a wealth tax that was slashed by the centrist government.

"We want a change in the method. One needs to come down from Mount Olympus," Faure said, referring to Macron's Greek god nickname of Jupiter.

Laurent Wauquiez, head of center-right Les Republicains party, urged Macron to hold a referendum to end the crisis but did not say what its topic should be.

"French people need to be heard again, and for that we must organize a referendum to decide these issues. Only these measures will restore calm," Wauquiez said.

Philippe will try to defuse tensions this week before more possible protests this weekend, speaking with yellow vest representatives on Tuesday. Members of the National Assembly will also hold talks on France's social crisis later this week.

More than 130 people were injured and 412 arrested Saturday in the French capital amid the nation's worst riot in a generation. Police responded with tear gas and water cannons, closing down dozens of streets and subway stations to contain the riot.

By Sunday, some of the most popular tourist streets in Paris were littered with torched cars and broken glass from looted shops and the Arc de Triomphe monument was tagged with graffiti.

Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire on Monday said three weeks of protests have dealt a serious blow to the French economy with retailers, hotel chains, high-street stores and restaurants all seeing a significant fall in trade.

Speaking after a meeting with industry groups and business federations affected by the movement, Le Maire said sector revenues had been hit by between 15 and 50 percent.

While he did not provide a precise breakdown, Le Maire said small retailers had seen a fall in revenue of between 20 and 40 percent, the hotel industry was seeing reservations down 15 to 25 percent and restaurants, depending on their location, had seen takings collapse by between 20 and 50 percent.

"The impact is severe and ongoing," Le Maire said, emphasising that it was nationwide, although Paris, after riots and looting in some of its most upmarket districts on Saturday afternoon and evening, was particularly affected.

Macron, just back from the Group of 20 summit in Argentina, held an emergency meeting Sunday on security and the government hasn't ruled out the possibility of imposing a state of emergency.

The protests began last month with motorists upset over a fuel tax hike and have grown to encompass a range of complaints that Macron's government doesn't care about the problems of ordinary people. Yet other protests in France on the same topic Saturday remained peaceful.

More anti-government protests took place Monday as paramedics took to the streets near the National Assembly in Paris to complain about changes to working conditions.

Dozens of ambulances blocked a bridge leading to the National Assembly and lines of riot police officers stood in the rain to prevent them from getting too close to the building. Protesters set tires on fire and blocked traffic. One activist held up a sign reading "The State killed me" and others chanted "Macron resign!"

Paramedics are complaining about changes to working conditions. The yellow vest movement is bringing together people from across the political spectrum complaining about France's economic inequalities and waning spending power.

Since the movement kicked off on Nov. 17, three people have been killed and hundreds injured in clashes or accidents stemming from the protests. Over the past three weeks, protesters have been setting up road blockades across the country and their movement has garnered wide public support.

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