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Yellow Vests hit Paris in protest against fuel price hike

Yellow Vest protesters on the Champs Elysees, Saturday 24 November, 2018
Yellow Vest protesters on the Champs Elysees, Saturday 24 November, 2018 Reuters

Police have fired tear gas in central Paris as demonstrations against a rise in fuel prices hit the French capital. Vehicles were set alight and buildings damaged as around 8,000 Yellow Vest, or gilets jaunes protesters descended on the Champs Elysees.

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The French Interior Ministry has only authorised demonstrations on Saturday on the Champ de Mars, the 94,000 m² park between de the Seine river and Ecole Militaire, overlooked by the Eiffel Tower.

Protests are forbidden in other large areas, including the Champs Elysees, the area surrounding the Ministry of Interior, the Elysée Palace and the Place de la Concorde.

Police have threatened fines of up to 7,500 euros on people who organise “undeclared” demonstrations and people who are found to carry arms will face a fine of 45,000 euros and 3 years in prison.

The measures were taken after massive disruptions during the first round of protests on 17 November.

Organisers hope this Saturday to gather a new "yellow tide" after the first weekend gathered 282,000 people, according to estimates by the Ministry of the Interior.

The call for an "Act 2" in Paris was launched on social networks. In spite of warnings by the police, more than 35,000 people agreed on Facebook that they are ready to participate in a meeting at the Place de la Concorde, banned by the authorities because of the proximity of the presidential palace.

A vast majority of the French are against increasing fuel prices, but the manner in which the gilets jaunes have carried out their protests is less popular, with 52% of the French are against.

The name of the movement was inspired by the yellow fluorescent jackets that every motorist must wear in case of an accident. Two people were killed and hundreds injured in the first wave of demonstrations and road blockades that began last weekend.

The gilets jaunes have proved a massive challenge for French President Emmanuel Macron. The Elysée has said that the President would next week announce further plans that may lead to an adjustment of the new fuel tax policies.

"We have received the message from the citizens [ ... ] the ecological transition, which is necessary, must be fair, equitable and democratic," the presidency said in a statement.

On Friday, the president of the National Assembly's Social Affairs Committee, from Macron's LaREM, or La République en Marche party, called for a "moratorium" on fuel tax increases in order to establish dialogue "in a calm climate".

But the statements are unlikely to appease the gilets jaunes.

Fuel prices have been going up steadily over the past year, as a result of the fluctuating oil prices that were caused by renewed US sanctions on Iran, the war in Yemen and a deteriorating relationship between Saudi Arabia and the West as a result of the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashogghi.

But a massive increase of fuel tax starting on January 1, 2018, sent fuel prices through the roof.

The government increased the “interior tax on the consumption of energy products (TICPE)” with up to 12 percent to satisfy demands of the ecologists.

Fuel taxes 2017 - 2018
Fuel taxes 2017 - 2018 Douane.gov.fr

Consumers can check costs by comparing prices at gas stations, and the government tried to help by publishing a website where consumers can compare fuel prices – they can differ up to 20 cents per liter depending on the supplier.

On 24 November, fuel prices differed from 1,44 € at the Esso Louis Blanc station to a staggering 1,89 € at the BP Paris Paul Doumer, a difference of more than 40 cents per liter, according to the website run by the French Finance Ministry.

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