With the streets of his capital at times resembling battlefields and anti-government fervor spreading through his nation, French President Emmanuel Macron will finally break his silence Monday, looking to strike a conciliatory tone and perhaps make concessions to the demonstrators roiling the country — even as one protest organizer warns the “movement isn’t controllable” and may not end until Macron is gone.
Macron is set to meet with trade unions and business leaders before addressing the nation at 8 p.m. local time, Sky News reported.
His speech comes after Paris’ chief prosecutor revealed Sunday nearly 1,000 people were being held in custody after weekend protests in the capital city again turned violent.
The radicalizing protest movement was initially triggered by a proposed fuel tax hike and other economic policies amid high living costs in France, and the feeling that Macron is favoring the rich. But as the demonstrations continued, its participants have become more of an amorphous group with disparate demands. They are all united, however, by their disdain for Macron’s government.
Government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux said on LCI TV station he was “sure [Macron] will know how to find the path to the hearts of the French, speak to their hearts.” But, he added, a “magic wand” won’t solve all the problems of the protesters, known as “yellow vests” for the fluorescent safety vests worn by some.
The protests, particularly in Paris, have turned destructive and violent, causing more than 8,000 police to be deployed as some 10,000 demonstrators took to the streets.
Popular tourist sites such as the Champs Elysee and the Arc de Triomphe have been major locations of unrest, with protesters setting vehicles ablaze and police deploying tear gas and stun grenades. There has also been damage in other cities, notably Marseille, Toulouse and Bordeaux.
Finance minister Bruno Le Maire said the weeks of unrest have been an “economic catastrophe” for France, according to Sky News.
Last week, Macron withdrew a fuel tax hike — the issue that kicked off protests in mid-November — in an effort to appease the protesters, but the move was seen as too little, too late.
For many protesters, Macron himself, widely seen as disconnected from rank-and-file French, has become the problem. Calls for him to resign were rampant Saturday, the fourth weekend of large-scale protests.
“Macron is there for the rich, not for all the French,” 68-year-old retiree Jean-Pierre Meunuer told the Associated Press on Saturday. Critics say Macron’s push to swiftly modernize the French economy have punished retirees, among other groups.
Thierry Paul Valette, who helps coordinate yellow vest protesters who come to Paris, said the president must announce concrete measures Monday if he hopes to quell the fury.
It won’t be enough to announce negotiations, Valette said in an interview with The Associated Press, adding that people want change and “concrete, immediate, right now” measures.
Even if Macron withdraws his signature slashing of the wealth tax, “half of the yellow vests will go home, the other half will want him to resign and will stay in the streets,” Valette predicted. “Because the movement isn’t controllable.”