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Who are France’s Red Scarves?

Foulards Rouges de France was launched on Facebook on the 26th November, 2018
Foulards Rouges de France was launched on Facebook on the 26th November, 2018 Facebook/Foulards Rouges de France

Thousands of demonstrators known as foulards rouges – or Red Scarves – are to march in Paris on Sunday to call for an end to violence at Yellow Vest protests. The police are bracing themselves for clashes between some members of the two protest movements.

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Alarmed by images of people being attacked by Yellow Vest protesters during the first weekend of nationwide demonstrations in November, John Christophe Werner decided to take action.

On 26 November he took to his computer at his home in Vaucluse, southern France, and set up a Facebook page. Today the Red Scarves of Francehas over 21,000 followers, most of whom agree that Yellow Vest protests are disrupting daily life.

“People are tired of the roadblocks. They are bad for business, and children are prevented from getting to school on time,” Red Scarves spokesperson Alex Brun tells RFI by telephone from Montpellier in the south of France.

Roadblocks have been an integral part of the Yellow Vest, or gilets jaunes, protest strategy. Ten people have been killed since the demonstrations began, most of them in accidents at or near roadblocks.

Red Scarves split

The Red Scarves movement soon spread geographically and has taken root in Bordeaux, Brittany, Lyon and many more small towns across France. The group’s leadership has split.

Laurent Soulié has proclaimed himself spokesman of a breakaway group of The Red Scarves, and in early January he rallied supporters on Facebook to sign up for a march in support of President Emmanuel Macron.

This provoked the wrath of the Yellow Vests and some within the Red Scarves of France who slammed Soulié for supporting France’s embattled president.

“The Red Scarves is an apolitical citizen movement,” Brun, the spokesperson for the Foulards Rouges explains.

Members of Macron’s government were quick to applaude Soulié’s faction of the Red Scarves for organising a march in support of the French Republic.

Chief among them was the education minister Jean-Michel Blanquer who on 16 January told parliament: “there’s a need to show that the national spirit is alive,” in reference to the Red Scarves.

To go or not to go?

As concerns began to grow over possible violent clashes between Red Scarves and Yellow Vests, members of the ruling Republic On the Move party said they would not attend Sunday’s march.

As criticism mounted Soulié backtracked and renamed the march Marche républicaine des liberté or national freedom march. Ten thousand people have signed up, many of whom are expected to march from Place de la Nation to Place de la Bastille in Paris.

But founding members of the Red Scarves of France are calling on their followers not to attend.

“We feel that the Great Debate launched by President Macron is the best way to resolve problems caused by the Yellow Vests, rather than confronting them on the street,” Brun says.

For the past week since launching the Great Debate President Macron has been zigzagging across France to meet with mayors in an attempt to address the grievances of the Yellow Vests and their sympathisers.

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