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French press review 17 November 2018

The good news is that Theresa May and her Brexit blues have been pushed off the top of the French front pages. The bad news is that the beleagured British prime minister has been replaced by a plague of yellow jackets, those protesters in high-visibility vests who have threatened to bring France to a standstill today in protest against fuel price increases.

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Le Monde says the yellow-jacket movement has seen a rapid rise in the numbers in its informal ranks, mainly thanks to social media. And that its members come mostly from rural or far suburban localities, where there's a general feeling that the population has been forgotten by the state.

Those yellow jackets met by the centrist paper's reporters all have jobs but have frequently chosen to buy or rent accommodation far from large urban centres because of inflated house prices.

That means they are totally dependent on their cars. They see the increases to be implemented in January to finance ecological initiatives as the last straw. Since they live in areas where public services are minimal, they have the feeling that they pay a lot of tax for a very small return.

And little things stick. Many of those interviewed by Le Monde remark unfavourably on the decision by President Emmanuel Macron to replace the porcelain dinner service at the Elysée Palace for 500,000 euros. It's an insignificant sum in the broader perspective of state spending, but it rankles.

"We have to tighten our belts," says one protester who will help to block the Mont Blanc tunnel leading to Italy later today. "But they don't."

The yellow jacket movement is, so far at least, resolutely apolitical, mainly out of fear of being hijacked by the far right as represented by Marine Le Pen. This is a citizens' movement, complete with its list of very ordinary demands, chillingly reminiscent of the popular wave of revolt which lead to the 1789 Revolution.

At least 1,500 separate demonstrations are scheduled for today all over France.

Another presidential failure

Libération's front page rather bizarrely says this is going to be "the yellowist day," with perhaps a belligerent glance at "the longest day," generally associated with the start of the D-Day landings in 1944.

The editorial in the left-leaning daily is headlined "Injustice" and it begins with Macron's sad confession that he has failed to reconcile the French people with those who rule them. Worse, says Libé, the president who won on a promise of doing politics differently, who brought together his elite backers and a majority from the middle and working classes, has widened and deepened the chasms dividing the wealthy urban enthusiasts for a greener world from the poorer suburban or rural France where the central heating still runs on fuel.

Libération says annoyance at the social injustice which has characterised government policy over the past 18 months is very deep. That's what the president should be worrying about.

Three quarters of the French support protest

Right-wing Le Figaro is not so sure this is just a rural movement. The paper commissioned an opinion poll which shows that 75 percent of French voters support the Yellow Vests.

That doesn't mean they'll all be out blocking the roads later today . . . only 15 percent of those questioned say they'll actively participate in the protests . . . but a big majority feel that the government has not done enough to address the legitimate anger of protesters. And those questioned come from all shades of political opinion, from far right to hard left.

Sixty-eight percent of those polled were not convinced by President Emmanuel Macron's television performance earlier this week.

It could be the start of a long, hard winter.

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