France fuel protest: One dead in ‘yellow vest’ blockades

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International desk, November 17: A protester has died in an accident and dozens have been injured as demonstrators angry at rising fuel prices disrupt traffic across France.The female protester was struck after a driver surrounded by demonstrators panicked and accelerated.

Some 120,000 “yellow vests”, so-called after the high-visibility jackets they are required to carry in their cars, have gathered in 2,000 locations.

They accuse President Emmanuel Macron of abandoning “the little people”.

Mr Macron has not so far commented on the protests, some of which have seen demonstrators call for him to resign.

But he admitted earlier in the week that he had not “really managed to reconcile the French people with their leaders”.

Nonetheless, he accused his political opponents of hijacking the movement in order to block his reform programme.

What has happened so far?

Chantal Mazet, 63, was killed in the south-eastern Savoy region when a driver who was taking her daughter to hospital panicked at being blocked by about 50 demonstrators, who were striking the roof of her vehicle, and drove into them.

The driver has been taken into police custody in a state of shock.

The protest “would be a failure” if it cost lives, Interior Minister Christophe Castaner was quoted by Le Parisien as saying.

“We are very worried. It is important to avoid risks,” he said.

Elsewhere in France there were reports of dozens of injuries, most taking place as infuriated drivers attempted to force their vehicles through crowds of protesters.

In Arras in northern France a 71-year-old demonstrator suffered serious injuries after being struck by a car which then scattered more demonstrators as the driver sped off, la Voix du Nord newspaper reported. The driver was later arrested.

In the northern town of Hazebrouck, two people were hurt when a truck driver mounted a pavement and forced the vehicle through protesters, la Voix du Nord said.

Two more people were hurt when a blocked driver turned round and collided with two oncoming vehicles near the eastern city of Besançon, L’Est Républicain reported.

In Sélestat near Strasbourg a driver ran over a protester’s foot, the DNA regional news website said.

In the southern town of Grasse, a police officer was struck by a driver attempting to force his vehicle through a protest. The driver was arrested, Nice-Matin reported.

Police have used tear gas to disperse protesters blocking a bridge in Savoy.

And in Bessan in southern France a frustrated driver was arrested after he took out a gun and fired in the air to try to get protesters out of the way, the Midi Libre newspaper reported.

In Paris increasing numbers of protesters were gathering on the Champs-Elysées.

Most of the protests have been taking place without incident and there has been a total of 17 arrests.

Why are drivers on the warpath?

The price of diesel, the most commonly used fuel in French cars, has risen by around 23% over the past 12 months to an average of €1.51 (£1.32; $1.71) per litre, its highest point since the early 2000s, AFP news agency reports.

World oil prices did rise before falling back again but the Macron government raised its hydrocarbon tax this year by 7.6 cents per litre on diesel and 3.9 cents on petrol, as part of a campaign for cleaner cars and fuel.

The decision to impose a further increase of 6.5 cents on diesel and 2.9 cents on petrol on 1 January 2019 was seen as the final straw.

Speaking on Wednesday, the president blamed world oil prices for three-quarters of the price rise. He also said more tax on fossil fuels was needed to fund renewable energy investments.

How big is the movement?

It has broad support. Nearly three-quarters of respondents to a poll by the Elabe institute backed the Yellow Vests and 70% wanted the government to reverse the fuel tax hikes.

More than half of French people who voted for Mr Macron support the protests, Elabe’s Vincent Thibault told AFP.

Source: BBC & News Agencies