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Thousands of French Activists Hit Streets for 19th Straight Weekend of ‘Yellow Vest’ Protests

Saturday's Paris demonstration almost seemed like the classic French protests of old

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A French police water cannon vehicle is in place on the Champs-Elysees during the the 19th consecutive national protest Saturday of the "yellow vest" movement in Paris, March 23, 2019. VOA

Thousands of French activists hit the streets again Saturday for the 19th straight weekend of “yellow vest” protests. The countrywide demonstrations were markedly smaller and less violent than previous editions — possibly because soldiers were deployed for the first time to guard sensitive sites.

Saturday’s Paris demonstration almost seemed like the classic French protests of old. The sun was shining, and the yellow vests who marched from southern Paris to the iconic Sacre Coeur Basilica appeared in good spirits as they sang the French national anthem and chanted for President Emmanuel Macron to resign.

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The 19th edition of the “yellow vest” protests in Paris was largely peaceful. (L. Bryant/VOA)

Mechanic Frederic Briet, marching with friends, said it was hard to make ends meet at the end of each month, and that he was worried about his children’s future.

The protests erupted last November over a planned fuel tax hike, which the government later rescinded. They have since morphed to include a broad array of grievances. While the numbers are down, there is no sign of the protest movement ending anytime soon.

Macron and his government came under heavy criticism after rioting in Paris last weekend. The president had been away skiing, and his interior minister was spotted dancing at a nightclub. The Paris police chief was fired, along with two other officials.

This time, French authorities were taking no chances. They banned demonstrations in some areas, including the Champs-Elysees, where businesses had been torched and vandalized last Saturday. Riot police were out in force. So were soldiers — although none could be spotted near the main march.

Music professor Isabelle Darras said the yellow vests have unfairly earned a negative image. She then noted how peaceful Saturday’s protest was.

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A worker sets up protections on the famed restaurant Fouquet’s of the Champs-Elysees, in Paris, March 22, 2019. French President Emmanuel Macron announced that soldiers would be deployed across the country to help maintain security during “yellow vest” protests. VOA

Others supported violence — including Hugo, a tour guide, who gave only his first name.

“Any major social laws were passed through violent manifestations,” he said. “So I hope it gets violent.”

Amy Potting from Idaho joined the crowds of tourists watching the yellow vests, whose march skirted Notre Dame Cathedral and other key sites.

“Seems like they’re protesting the [wealthiest] 1 percent and a lot of issues we have back home, too,” she said. “Immigration’s part of it, I think. We don’t know a lot.”

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“Yellow vest” protesters in Paris carry a banner calling for rights for the unemployed. (L. Bryant/VOA)

Polls show support for the yellow vests has dwindled, but roughly four in 10 French still back the movement. Some Parisians shouted insults at the passing marchers.

A man who gave his name as Olivier said he understood their grievances but thought there were better ways to express them, such as voting.

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Macron launched a weeks-long debate to try to defuse the crisis, but it’s unclear what his next step will be. The yellow vests, however, are almost certain to be back on the streets next Saturday. (VOA)

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World Leaders Prepare for G7 Summit Even As Fears Over Global Economy Increases

The economic fears are rooted in the trade war between the United States and China

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Security concerns will also be high on the agenda. North Korea has resumed its ballistic missile tests. Pixabay

The G-7 host, Emmanuel Macron,  has made fighting inequality the theme for the annual meeting of the seven industrialized nations, which opens Saturday in the French seaside resort of Biarritz with the leaders of the United States, France, Britain, Germany, Italy, Japan and Canada in attendance.

The French president has invited leaders from several other countries, including six African nations, to take part in the annual discussion of major global challenges. But analysts say any grand ambitions for the summit will likely be stymied by pressing economic concerns.

Most worrisome are recent indicators from both sides of the Atlantic of slowing economic growth and a possible global recession.

Earlier this month, government bond yields in both the United States and Germany were briefly higher for two-year than 10-year bonds, a sign that investors see significant risks ahead, says economist Jasper Lawler of the London Capital Group.

“Particularly in the U.S., it’s actually been a very reliable signal to point towards a recession.”

Adding the investors’ fears, the usual fiscal tools to tackle a recession might not be available.

“We don’t have that usual fallback from central banks of cutting interest rates because they already have, and they are already at rock bottom levels,” says Lawler.

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Summit host France is determined to not let economics overshadow its own agenda. Pixabay

The economic fears are rooted in the trade war between the United States and China, which has resulted in both countries imposing tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of imports. Europe is suffering additional headwinds, says economist Lawler.

“The trade war, but also just the auto sector, the transition from using diesel cars to electronic vehicles. It’s a period of uncertainty that’s unduly affecting Europe.”

Summit host France is determined to not let economics overshadow its own agenda — and top of the list is climate change, says John Kirton of the G-7 Research Group at the University of Toronto.

“It’s driven by the scary science which is unfolding every day, but more importantly by the historic heat waves that have afflicted Europe, including France.”

U.S. President Donald Trump left last year’s G-7 summit in Canada early, before the leaders had discussed climate change, and later disavowed the final communiqué. This year France is determined to keep the United States on board, says Kirton.

“President Macron I think has structured his agenda to allow Donald Trump to be at his best. Gender equality — the president has been very good at that, it’s at the top of the French list. Education — yes, and also health. It’s the president of the United States that’s been pushing the G-7 to try to get it to deal with the opioid crisis.”

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U.S. President Donald Trump left last year’s G-7 summit in Canada early, before the leaders had discussed climate change, and later disavowed the final communiqué. Pixabay

Security concerns will also be high on the agenda. North Korea has resumed its ballistic missile tests.

Meanwhile the standoff between Iran and the West has escalated over the seizure of a British-flagged oil tanker in the Persian Gulf, which followed the detention of an Iranian vessel in Gibraltar.

Burgeoning anti-government protests in Russia and Hong Kong also pose questions for the G-7, says Kirton.

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“Have we seen the tide [change], where authoritarian leaders in various degrees are no longer in control? It may not be the way of the future. In fact, if that’s the case, then how can the G-7 activate its distinctive foundational issue: to promote democracy?” Kirton asked.

Meanwhile British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will meet Trump at the G-7 for the first time in his new role. Both leaders are hoping for a rapid trade deal amid signs of a steep economic downturn in Britain as it edges closer to crashing out of the European Union with no deal at the end of October. (VOA)