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Macron Debate Put to the Test as the Tenth Event

PARIS – The French “yellow vests” took to the streets Saturday for a 10th consecutive weekend of anti-government demonstrations, defying any attempt by President Emmanuel Macron to channel their anger in a series of town hall debates, AFP reported Saturday.
A police source said the authorities expected the protests to be “at least as big as last week,” with more than 80,000 protesting against inequality, privileges enjoyed by senior officials, and style of government of a president accused of arrogance.
Last week’s participation confirmed that after a lull at the end of the year, the protesters behind the biggest crisis of Macron’s presidency remained fully mobilized.
The centrist leader hopes that this week’s launch of a “big national debate” on politics will mark a turning point.
One of the key requirements of yellow vests is that ordinary citizens have more say in policy making.
Macron this week launched two months of public consultations on topics ranging from taxation to public services. He spent more than 12 hours debating with mayors at two separate gatherings in the north and south-west of the country.
The debates mark the return of the 41-year-old president, who won the elections at the head of a popular movement that went door-to-door to ask the French what types of changes were needed.
A prodigious debater, he appeared this week to savor the return to a campaign policy.
But many yellow vests announced plans to boycott scheduled talks in dozens of towns and villages, viewing them as an attempt to drain the support of a movement that broke out in mid-November over fuel taxes and quickly expanded to a weekly protest campaign regularly ended clashes with the police and destruction of property.
The growing number of protesters who have been seriously injured by police has aggravated their anger towards the state.
The “Disarm” group, a local group fighting against police violence, reported 98 serious injuries, including 15 cases of people who lost one eye, mainly after being hit by rubber bullets.
Saturday, the protesters intend to leave the museum of the war of Invalides in Paris by the left bank of the Seine.
Some 80,000 members of the security forces are back in service throughout the country, including 5,000 in Paris.
Macron places his hopes in the debate to break the image of a leader disconnected from the concerns of the inhabitants of rural France.
Polls reveal mixed feelings among the French. About 40% said they would like to participate but about two-thirds said they did not believe the consultations would end the protests.
“I warn you, Mr. President, this debate should not become a big bluff,” said Christian Venries, mayor of the village of Saint-Cirgues, in the center-south of the country, during a public meeting held Friday in his region.
To fend off accusations that his policies favor the most affluent city-dwellers, former banker Macron has already put an end to a controversial fuel tax hike that would have blocked people in rural areas dependent on the country automobile.
He also unveiled a package of wage increases and tax breaks for low wages and retirees, amounting to 10 billion euros ($11.5 billion), which thwarted the objectives of the France in deficit.
The measures were disappointing for the protesters, who demanded a radical change of policy in favor of low wages, supported by polls showing widespread sympathy for their cause.
(Sahar News Monitoring Desk)

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