French ambulance workers join protests as crisis talks held
PARIS — French paramedics joined ongoing anti-government protests as the prime minister met with political rivals Monday in a bid to ease anger following violent riots that rocked Paris.
Dozens of ambulances blocked a bridge leading to the National Assembly and lines of riot police officers stood in the rain to prevent them from getting too close to the building. Paramedics are complaining about changes to working conditions.
It was the latest protest action that President Emmanuel Macron’s government has faced in recent weeks. The “yellow vest” movement is bringing together people from across the political spectrum complaining about France’s economic inequalities and waning spending power.
Macron, just back from the Group of 20 summit in Argentina, held an emergency meeting Sunday on security and the government hasn’t ruled out the possibility of imposing a state of emergency.
On Saturday, more than 130 people were injured and 412 arrested Saturday in the French capital amid one of the nation’s worst unrest in recent times. Police responded with tear gas and water cannons, closing down dozens of streets and subway stations to contain the riot.
The rioting was the third straight weekend of clashes in Paris led by protesters wearing distinctive yellow traffic vests. The protests began last month with motorists upset over a fuel tax hike and have grown to encompass a range of complaints that Macron’s government doesn’t care about the problems of ordinary people. Other protests in France remained peaceful.
By Sunday, some of the most popular tourist streets in Paris were littered with torched cars and broken glass from looted shops and the Arc de Triomphe monument was tagged with graffiti.
During the paramedic protest on Monday, some demonstrators set fire to a small pile of debris and blocked traffic. One activist held up a sign reading “The State killed me” and others chanted “Macron resign!”
According to French media reports, students also joined the protest movement by blocking dozens of high schools across France, while clashes between protesters and police officers reignited Monday on the Indian Ocean island of Reunion, where demonstrations have been particularly violent in recent weeks.
Prime Minister Edouard Philippe and Macron have been lambasted for their handling of the crisis. After meeting with the prime minister, Socialist leader Olivier Faure urged Philippe to drop the tax hikes and to restore a wealth tax that was slashed by the centrist government.
“We want a change in the method. One needs to come down from Mount Olympus,” Faure said, referring to Macron’s Greek god nickname of Jupiter.
Laurent Wauquiez, head of center-right Les Republicains party, urged Macron to hold a referendum to end the crisis but didn’t say what its topic should be.
“French people need to be heard again, and for that we must organize a referendum to decide these issues. Only these measures will restore calm,” Wauquiez said.
Since the movement kicked off on Nov. 17, three people have been killed and hundreds injured in clashes or accidents stemming from the protests. Over the past three weeks, protesters have been setting up road blockades across the country and their movement has garnered wide public support.
Philippe will try to defuse tensions this week before more possible protests this weekend, speaking with yellow vest representatives on Tuesday. Members of the National Assembly will also hold talks on France’s social crisis later this week. Meanwhile, trade union CGT has called for a day of protest across France on Dec. 14.