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Conflict in France heads for impasse

By CHEN YINGQUN | China Daily | Updated: 2018-12-04 09:42
A vandalized car and bank front are seen on Monday, the day after clashes in Paris which led to the arrests of more than 400 protesters. [STEPHANE MAHE/REUTERS]

Macron tells PM to hold talks after worst unrest in Paris for decades

The conflict between the French government and protesters is likely to come to an impasse, as the causes for it have been there for some time, experts say.

More than 100 people were injured in Paris and 412 have been arrested over the weekend during France's worst urban riot in years, with 112 cars torched. French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe is holding crisis talks on Monday with representatives of the major political parties.

More anti-government protests took place on Monday as ambulance workers took to the streets and gathered close to the National Assembly in downtown Paris to complain about changes to working conditions.

Tian Dewen, a researcher of European Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said that the causes of the conflicts have been there for a long time.

France's economic growth has lagged for the past few years, and the rate of unemployment is quite high. However, the government's reforms have yet to prove popular with the public.

"The progress of France's economic transformation has been quite slow, and the domestic contradictions have been piled up over time," he said. "The government has to make economic reform, and that will in one way or another, move some people's cheese and cause dissatisfaction."

French President Emmanuel Macron, just back from the G20 summit in Argentina, held an emergency meeting on security with Philippe on Sunday and the government hasn't ruled out the possibility of imposing a state of emergency.

The riots pose the most formidable challenge yet to Macron's presidency, with the escalating violence and depth of public anger against his economic reforms catching the 40-year-old leader off-guard and battling to regain control.

Wang Peng, associate research fellow of the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies of Renmin University of China, said that while France definitely requires economic reform, there are some who will resist government attempts to go too far, meaning the conflict will be hard to eliminate and will certainly lead to an impasse.

"Macron wants to push forward substantive reforms in his term, and it is inevitable he will meet with resistance," Wang said.

He added that during presidential elections in many countries, candidates make many promises to win the heart of voters, even though those are promises are unrealistic and are very difficult to achieve. From this perspective, the public are also partly responsible for their own dissatisfaction.

Culturally, French people are willing to express their dissatisfaction with politicians, Tian said, but the French government may not have expected the large scale of the protests.

Although the police have arrested hundreds of people, they still failed to totally control the situation.

"Whatever the protesters want, they should express their needs through legal channels, and riots are illegal and create disorder, which should definitely be condemned," he said.

Control then dialogue

Tian said that the first thing the French government should do is to take control of the situation and then seek dialogue.

However, as the government fails to provide solutions to the unease over its economic reforms, it will be difficult for Macron to find a way to satisfy the protesters and still change the country.

"I think the reforms will continue, but in specific policies, Macron's government may reassess the policies' influence over common people," he said.

It was the third straight weekend of clashes in Paris. The protests began last month with motorists upset over a fuel tax hike and have grown to encompass accusations that the government has failed to address the problems of ordinary people.

Activists wearing fluorescent yellow high-visibility vests torched cars, smashed windows, looted stores, threw rocks at police and tagged the Arc de Triomphe with graffiti on Sunday. Police responded with tear gas and water cannon, closing down dozens of streets and Metro stations to contain the riot.

CHINA DAILY/AP

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