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New protest movements demand a say in fractured France

The yellow vests movement set to run candidates in May’s European elections

Protesters hold a banner reading 'Stop the Violence' as thousands of 'Foulards Rouges' (Red Scarfs) demonstrators march in support of the government policy in Paris, France. EPA
Protesters hold a banner reading 'Stop the Violence' as thousands of 'Foulards Rouges' (Red Scarfs) demonstrators march in support of the government policy in Paris, France. EPA

The “gilets jaunes” (yellow vests) movement born to protest the policies of French President Emmanuel Macron is facing a kaleidoscope of rivals, including the "foulards rouges" (red scarves) who have taken to the streets to demand an end to two months of confrontation.

But the red scarves movement is just one example of the ongoing splintering of French public opinion.

Among the over ten thousand "foulards rouges" demonstrators who took part in the so-called “republican march of freedom” on Sunday, there were some who called for support to an embattled Mr Macron and others who urged the movement to remain apolitical.

The “gilets bleus” (blue vests) – another movement almost identical to the red scarves – also rallied behind demands to end to the traffic disruptions and flare-ups of violence that have paralysed the country for eleven consecutive weekends.

The flurry of movements sporting different colours of the high-visibility jacket includes the “gilets verts” (green vests), who instead campaign for a socially-just transition to green energy.

The very movement of the yellow vests fragmented last week when some of its members announced their candidacy in the European parliamentary elections in May.

The new group, “Ralliement d’Initiative Citoyenne” (Citizen Initiative Rally), said in a statement that it will aim to “transform the anger into a human political project that is able to bring solutions to the French.”

Ingrid Levavasseur, a 31-year-old health worker who has become one of the most high-profile members of the movement, is heading the list composed of other nine members from various backgrounds.

“At a certain point we will need to have a structure, we are not anarchists.” Ms Levavasseur said in an interview broadcasted by French TV station BFMTV.

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A statement from the group said the names for France’s other 69 seats in the parliament are open to suggestions before 10 February and that candidates will be chosen in a vote by “gilets jaunes” activists.

Some observers say the electoral program will likely be anti-European, but it is unclear what an anti-establishment movement that is very diverse in its composition will agree upon.

Previous attempts by yellow vests activists to engage in a political dialogue with the establishment have so far resulted in abuse and threats from more extreme members of the group.

The group must now raise 700,000 euros to field the election list of candidates. According to French newspaper Le Figaro, it has so far collected about 10 per cent of the required amount.

Le Figaro reported that another yellow vests group may present its own list for the European election.

The ongoing anti-Macron protests have already caused the deaths of ten people and injured dozens. High-profile member Jérôme Rodrigues claimed this weekend he was struck in the eye by a “flash-ball” – a launcher used by French riot police to fire large rubber pellets – and will be disabled for life.

Crowd-control grenades have been blamed for dozens of injuries and have added to the anger fuelled by videos of police violence, including the brutal arrest of high school students.

While the government maintains flash-ball launchers are the only way to protect police officers, there have been numerous calls for these tools to be banned following serious injuries or legal complaints during protests.

Last week the French interior minister, Christophe Castaner, ordered officers carrying them to wear body cameras.

Speaking on LCI television, Mr Rodrigues said police had carried out “all the violence the rules permit”. “I’m going to take legal action against Mr Macron, Mr Castaner and against the police officer who shot at me … I remain firmly pacifist whatever happens,” he said.

Updated: January 28, 2019 08:15 PM

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