French police remove helmets after days of violent protests

DAILY SABAH WITH WIRES
Istanbul
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In an effort to appease a protest movement that sparked large-scale rioting in Paris, a group of about two dozen French police officers removed their helmets. Following drastic scenes of violence across the country, the unexpected conciliatory gesture took place in the town of Pau in southwestern France yesterday. The gesture of solidarity incited an overwhelming applause from the "yellow vest" protesters, as a video showing officers making gesture of peace has gone viral.

However, it did not lead to a lasting peace between the protesters and police officers. Some violent clashes took place again Monday as a large group of angry protesters had gathered near Pau's town hall, planning to break into the building, according to France's Sud Ouest newspaper.

More than 100 people were injured in the French capital and 412 arrested over the weekend in Paris, with dozens of cars torched. Shops were looted, and cars torched in plush neighborhoods around the famed Champs-Elysees Avenue. Paris police Prefect Michel Delpuech said some officers described encountering "unprecedented" violence, including protesters using hammers, gardening tools, bolts, aerosol cans as well as rocks in physical confrontations. Some radical far-right and far-left activists were involved in the riot, as well as a "great number" of protesters wearing yellow jackets, Delpuech said.

The Elysée presidential palace said French President Emmanuel Macron had a "long exchange" over lunch in a police station in eastern Paris on Monday with members of the CRS police units, amid reports that a special premium will be given to the officers on duty to prevent clashes, as reported by RTL.

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

Facing the most serious crisis, the French government announced in a live televised address that the planned increases, which were set to be introduced in January, were now being postponed until the summer. The backpedaling appeared to be designed to calm the nation, coming three days after the worst unrest on the streets of Paris in decades. "No tax is worth putting the nation's unity in danger," said French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, just three weeks after insisting that the government wouldn't change course and remained determined to help wean French consumers off polluting fossils fuels.

Tough talk by Macron has been roundly blamed for the recent chaos. Macron, whose popularity is plummeting, is also widely seen as arrogant with a style that ruffles sensitivities, such as telling an unemployed man he can find a job if he "crosses the street," or advising a retiree not to complain.

Mass street protests have repeatedly forced previous French presidents into U-turns, something that Macron had vowed to avoid in his quest to transform the French economy and state. But it was unclear if the measures would assuage the anger on French streets.

French Prime Minister Philippe attempted to defuse tensions before more possible protests this weekend, speaking with representatives of the yellow vest movement. However, the talks were cancelled yesterday morning. Members of the National Assembly will also hold talks on the crisis later this week. Meanwhile, the trade union General Confederation of Labour (CGT) has called for a day of protest across France on Dec. 14.

The popular rebellion erupted out of nowhere on Nov. 17 and has spread quickly via social media, with protesters blocking roads across France and impeding access to shopping malls, factories and some fuel depots. The "yellow vest" movement — led by protesters wearing the distinctively colored roadside safety vests used by motorists — is bringing together people from across the political spectrum complaining about France's economic inequalities and waning spending power. More protests took place on Monday in Paris, as dozens of ambulances blocked a bridge leading to the National Assembly. Lines of riot police stood in the rain to prevent them from getting too close to the building.

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