French President Emmanuel Macron denounced on Tuesday February 26th the “yellow vest” protesters who allow themselves to get mixed up in violent demonstrations, at a time when public opinion is growing increasingly irritated with ongoing violence.
Macron told a meeting of legislators from eastern France: “Those who join violent demonstrations are complicit with the worst…It's a miracle that after so many Saturdays marred by violence there have been no deaths resulting from police action.”
France has been rocked by the images of scores of burning cars and ransacked businesses during the initial protests, when thousands of rioters staged running street battles with police in Paris. Eleven people have died since the Saturday protests began in November in reaction to increasing fuel taxes.
And while violence has subsided, sporadic clashes still erupt, notably in the provinces, each Saturday. On Monday February 25th, an Odoxa poll found that 55% of French people now want the protests to stop. This compared to 66% of them supporting the protests at the beginning.
But Macron rejected calls by some legislators for stronger action against protesters. He stated, “I believe that today it is time for debate, for a democratic response, and then a response through the polls. But we cannot be a democracy of rioting.”
In addition to pledging financial assistance to low-income households, Macron has launched a series of town hall debates to canvass public opinion on what reforms they would like to see implemented.
According to the interior ministry, some 2,000 protesters and 1,000 police have been injured since the start of the demonstrations on November 17th.
The Council of Europe rights group on Tuesday February 26th urged France to halt the use of rubber bullet launchers blamed for dozens of injuries to protesters.
France is one of few European nations to use so-called defence ball launchers, known by the French abbreviation LBDs, which shoot 40-millimetre (1.5 inch) rubber projectiles that are considered non-lethal.