French protests: PM calls for ‘national unity’ following violence

Paris [France]: Following the violent “yellow-vests” protests in the French capital on Saturday, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe has said that it was time for a dialogue “to knit our national unity back together” and called for a discussion with the protesters.

“No tax is that important to threaten national unity. We must continue with dialogue, with coming together,” Al Jazeera quoted the French Prime Minister as saying.

Official data showed that approximately 125,000 protesters took to streets across France on Saturday, with 10,000 in Paris alone. Thousands of protestors, most of who were dressed in ‘gilets jaunes,’ the yellow fluorescent vests that have symbolised the movement, gathered at the Champs-Elysees at around 11 am (local time) and chanted “Down with Macron” and “Calm down police,” CNN quoted the French police as saying.

A number of France’s monuments, including the iconic Eiffel Tower in Paris, remained closed on Saturday as authorities anticipated a repeat of last week’s violence, deploying over 8,000 policemen in the French capital to maintain order. Police held 481 people for questioning and arrested 211 arrests as of 11 am (local time), Prime Minister Eduardo Philippe confirmed.

Meanwhile, French President Emmanuel Macron, who had not spoken publicly since last week’s violence in the capital, personally took to Twitter, saying, “To all [the security] forces that mobilised today, thank you for the courage and the exceptional professionalism you showed.”

Since the French government scrapped the hike in fuel tax price and froze gas and electricity prices for the next year, the “yellow vest” protest has continued with a broader set of economic demands, including lower taxes, higher salaries, cheaper energy costs, better retirement provisions and even Macron’s resignation.

United States President Donald Trump also took to Twitter, saying, “Very sad day & night in Paris. Maybe it’s time to end the ridiculous and extremely expensive Paris Agreement and return money back to the people in the form of lower taxes? The U.S. was way ahead of the curve on that and the only major country where emissions went down last year!”