Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 22 September 2019

G7 marchers parade stolen portraits in anti-Macron protest

Hundreds demand that French president takes radical steps to meet climate change commitments

A protestor with an image of French President Emmanuel Macron during an environmental protest in in Bayonne, near Biarritz, on the second day of the G7 summit. EPA
A protestor with an image of French President Emmanuel Macron during an environmental protest in in Bayonne, near Biarritz, on the second day of the G7 summit. EPA

Hundreds of environmental campaigners brandishing stolen portraits of Emmanuel Macron marched on Sunday in protest at the French president’s record in tackling climate change.

Activists gathered at Bayonne, the city neighbouring Biarritz where Mr Macron was hosting G7 leaders, carrying some of the 127 official portraits they claim to have snatched from town halls and offices this year.

Mr Macron has made the environment a key issue at the talks as he has sought to position France as a world leader in tackling climate change. He has threatened to block a free-trade agreement with South American countries unless Brazil tackles fires and deforestation in the Amazon.

But critics said that his language on climate change has not been backed up by action within France. About 900 protesters, organisers said, took to the streets of Bayonne on Sunday after they were barred from the ritzy coastal town hosting the G7 summit to demand he change course

Activists across France have embarked on brazen raids on municipal offices across France since February to “take down Macron” and remove his portraits.

March organisers said that more than 50 people are slated to go on trial for the thefts. The first people convicted have been given fines of some €500 (Dh2,064) but only payable if they committed further offences, they said, decisions that have been appealed by French prosecutors as they were seen as too lenient.

Protesters were urged to parade with the stolen portraits along with "fakes" and pictures of family members to dissuade police from moving in. Some were wrapped in bags and newspaper.

Some of the portraits were held upside down while other placards asked “Where is Macron?” in the face of a climate emergency.

"We are holding him upside down to show the lack of sense in his policies," said Mathieu, one activist.

Some of the marchers wore yellow vests in a nod to the protests that convulsed France in 2018-19 in the largest challenge to Mr Macron’s authority and resulted in him backing down on a planned fuel tax rise.

“One, two, three degrees, it's a crime against humanity!” they chanted as they marched through the narrow streets of Bayonne.

The march on Sunday passed off peacefully with no arrests.

Organisers displayed seven of the stolen portraits at a news conference.

Labelling Mr Macron a champion of “blabla” — French for mumbo jumbo — campaigners called for radical changes to the French economy to promote the environment.

Mr Macron has echoed US president Donald Trump’s America-first slogans by appealing to nations to “make our planet great again”. He wants France, like the UK, to have net zero emissions by 2050.

But France is falling behind on climate change commitments made in 2016 to limit the rise in global temperatures with central government policies failing to curb transport emissions.

“We need radical changes in every area,” said Pauline Boyer, a spokeswoman for the protesters. “He has the power to accelerate this change in our society but he is not doing it.

“He is calling himself a champion of the earth but he is not doing enough.”

France have deployed more than 13,000 police to prevent disturbances and forced environmental and anti-capitalism protesters outside of Biarritz for the three-day meeting.

More than 9,000 people joined a peaceful anti-G7 march on Saturday across a bridge linking France and Spain. Later, police used teargas and water cannon to break up protests in Bayonne where anti-capitalism protesters were blocked from reaching the city centre. Dozens were arrested.

A separate peaceful march took place in the French coastal town of Hendaye, about 29 kilometres from Biarritz, on Saturday.

“If the climate was a cathedral, we would already have saved it,” said one placard, referring to Notre-Dame in Paris, which was ravaged by a fire in April that prompted donors to pledge €850 million to rebuild it.

Updated: August 25, 2019 07:10 PM

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