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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 16 January 2019

Yellow vest protests catastrophic for French economy, says finance minister

President Emmanuel Macron scheduled to address the nation as protests continue for fourth weekend

A yellow vest protester stands amid smoke during a demonstration in Paris, France, 08 December 2018. EPA
A yellow vest protester stands amid smoke during a demonstration in Paris, France, 08 December 2018. EPA

France's ongoing protests are having a catastrophic impact on the economy, the country's finance minister has said.

The ‘yellow vest’ protests, named for the high-visibility tops worn by demonstrators, were initially sparked by proposed fuel tax hikes, but have since morphed into a larger movement encompassing a variety of grievances against Emmanuel Macron’s government.

This weekend’s protests were the largest yet, with an estimated 125,000 people taking to the streets. French police made over 1700 arrests, and although there were fewer injuries than last week, more property was damaged, Paris’ deputy mayor said on Sunday.

"There was much more dispersion, so many more places were impacted," Emmanuel Gregoire told France Inter radio. "There was much more damage yesterday than there was a week ago."

Saturday’s protests saw the Eiffel Tower, Louvre Museum and countless businesses and restaurants close to visitors in anticipation of violence. Although the precise cost of the protests to the French economy cannot yet be quantified, the French retail federation estimates retailers alone have lost around 1 billion euros (Dh4 billion) since the protests began.

Touring shops and businesses affected by the riots on Sunday, French finance minister Bruno Le Maire said the current state of affairs was “a crisis” for the country.

"It's a catastrophe for commerce, it's a catastrophe for our economy," he said.

As photos and video showing billowing smoke, violent altercations between the police and protesters and smashed windows were beamed across the world, world leaders began to weigh in.

US president Donald Trump shared his opinion that the protests showed that France should pull out of the Paris Climate accords, calling the non-binding agreement “ridiculous and extremely expensive”.

The French government swiftly responded. "We do not take domestic American politics into account and we want that to be reciprocated," Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told LCI television channel.

"I say this to Donald Trump and the French president says it too: leave our nation be."

He added that Mr Macron was keen to have dialogue with the demonstrators and would offer solutions in an address to the people scheduled for next week.

"I think his remarks will be strong enough for the movement to halt, or at least for the hooligans to be put off," he said.

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Updated: December 9, 2018 07:58 PM

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