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Macron govt hopes 'yellow vest' protests running out of steam

Monday, December 17, 2018

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PARIS, France (AFP) — The French government was yesterday hoping the sharp drop in “yellow vest” demonstrators signalled an end to protests which have plunged President Macron into the biggest crisis of his presidency.

Around 66,000 protesters turned out again on Saturday for a fifth round of anti-government demonstrations, which sprung up over fuel tax hikes last month.

The figure was about half the number of the previous weekend, suggesting “the end of a cycle of mobilisation”, according to Jerome Saint-Marie of pollsters Pollingvox.

“One stage is behind us, certainly, and I think that that is in everybody's interest, including the yellow vests,” Education Minister Michel Blanquer said.

Although the drop in protesters suggested the momentum of the “yellow vest” movement was waning, sociologist Herve Le Bras from the School of Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences (EHESS) said they would leave a bitter legacy .

“It is calming down but what remains of it all is a strong feeling of hatred towards Macron,” he said.

A major poll by the Ifop group published in Journal du Dimanche newspaper showed Macron's approval rating had slipped another two points in the last month, to 23 per cent.

The proportion of people who declared themselves “very dissatisfied” by his leadership jumped by six points to 45 per cent.

An Opinionway poll for LCI television, however, registered a two point increase to 31 percent overall. The poll was carried out on Wednesday and Thursday, after Tuesday's deadly attack on Strasbourg's Christmas market.

Many of the protesters have targeted Macron personally, calling on him to resign or attacking his background as an investment banker.

Le Bras said the protests had underlined the depth of dislike for Macron's personality and style of governing, which critics see as arrogant and too distant.

Until last week, a clear majority of French people backed the protests, which sprung up initially over high taxes before snowballing into broader opposition to Macron.

In a bid to end the standoff, he announced a package of measures for low-income workers last Monday in a televised address, estimated by economists to cost up to 15 billion euros ($17 billion).

The 40-year-old also acknowledged widespread animosity towards him and came close to apologising for a series of verbal gaffes seen as dismissive of the poor or jobless.

Two polls published last Tuesday — in the wake of Macron's concessions — suggested the country was now split broadly 50-50 on whether the protests should continue.


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