News World One dead, scores hurt in French fuel tax protests

One dead, scores hurt in French fuel tax protests

Protesters hold a placard reading 'no unions' during a nationwide people's initiated day of protest called 'yellow vest' movement to protest against rising fuel prices. Photo: AFP/Getty
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One protester has been killed and 227 people injured at roadblocks set up around villages, towns and cities across France, as citizens angry with rising fuel taxes rose up in a grassroots movement.

Police officers lobbed tear gas canisters at demonstrators on the famed Champs-Elysees Avenue in Paris as groups of “yellow jackets” – as the protesters called themselves, tried to make their way to the presidential Elysee Palace.

Later, hundreds of protesters entered the bottom of the street dotted with luxury shops where the palace is located – and where President Emmanuel Macron lives – before being pushed back by security forces with shields.

In a similar scenario, police cleared out the huge traffic circle around the Arc de Triomphe, paralysed for hours by protesters.

French Interior Ministry officials counted nearly 283,000 protesters, mostly peaceful, throughout the day at more than 2,000 sites, some setting bonfires or flying balloons.

However, some demonstrations turned violent.

In Troyes, southeast of Paris, about 100 people invaded the local prefecture, damaging the inside, Interior Ministry officials said. In Quimper, in Brittany, security forces used water cannon to disperse hostile protesters.

The protester who died, a 63-year-old woman, was killed when a driver caught in the blockade accelerated in a panic at Pont-de-Beauvoisin, near Chambery, in eastern France.

A confrontation with protesters “got heated up for no reason” and the driver accelerated her mini-van after “people started rattling her car,” a protester who witnessed the incident told BFMTV. He said the woman told them she was taking her daughter to a doctor.

An investigation into the death was opened.

Thousands of citizens of Loire-Atlantique in Nantes answered the call of the yellow vests to protest. Photo: Getty

Eight of the 227 people injured were in serious condition, ministry officials said. A police officer and a firefighter who intervened when protesters attacked a closed service station were among the eight.

A total of 117 people were arrested with 73 of them held for questioning.

The nationwide protest was unusual because it arose from within the citizenry, backed neither by unions nor politicians, although some took part in a clear bid for supporters.

The grassroots nature of the protests, which drew supporters angry over an array of issues, made it a political hot potato for Macron’s government.

Macron wants to close the gap between the price of diesel fuel and gasoline as part of his strategy to wean France off fossil fuels. A “carbon trajectory” calls for continued increases. Taxes on diesel fuel have risen 7 euro cents and are to keep climbing in the coming years, Transport Minister Elisabeth Borne has said.

The tax on gasoline is to increase 4 euro cents.