France braces for travel turmoil as ‘yellow vests’ take on Macron

In Paris a “snail operation” will snarl the city’s main ring road before heading toward the Elysee Palace.

“We’re fed up,” Thierry Marre, a former oil industry manager who is organising protests in the southeastern Provence region, told AFP this week, saying the government had “to back down.”

“They’re stealing our lives,” he said. “People can’t afford to go on holiday, they don’t have enough to put any money away for saving.”

Macron admitted in a prime-time TV interview this week that he had “not succeeded in reconciling the French with their leaders” and “we have probably not given them enough consideration.”

But other officials have stoked ire by calling the drivers’ protest “irrational,” while government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux dismissed “people who smoke and drive diesel cars” as “not the France of the 21st century.”

“Emmanuel Macron’s unpopularity is increasingly acrimonious. It’s become more of a societal opposition, not just political,” said Jerome Sainte-Marie, head of the PollingVox institute.

Macron’s approval ratings are stuck at around 30 percent in various polls, and despite payroll tax relief which kicked in last month and reductions in residency taxes, he remains widely perceived as a “president of the rich.”

“Emmanuel Macron is in real trouble with average people: he represents the Parisian social and intellectual elite and that sends a very negative image,” Sainte-Marie said.

But the 40-year-old centrist has shown no signs of changing course, saying he will pursue his reform agenda despite risking the wrath of voters.

The government has said it will not tolerate road shutdowns Saturday, and some 30,000 additional police officers will be on call in case of disruptions.

Macron does have some on his side: several cycling groups have called for counter-protests in support of the higher fuel taxes. 

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