France protests 'an economic catastrophe'

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France protests 'an economic catastrophe' Image copyrightReutersImage caption About 10,000 took to the streets of Paris

The "yellow vest" protests have been "a catastrophe" for the French economy, the finance minister says.

France has seen four consecutive weekends of demonstrations against fuel tax rises, high living costs, and other issues.

About 125,000 protesters took to the streets on Saturday, with more than 1,700 people arrested.

Several tourist sites, including the Eiffel Tower and Louvre Museum, are closed this weekend.

Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire called the situation "a crisis" for both society and democracy.

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"It's a catastrophe for commerce, it's a catastrophe for our economy," he said during a visit to shops in Paris that had been damaged during the protests.

The capital was particularly badly hit, with windows smashed, cars burned, and shops looted, as 10,000 people took part in demonstrations.

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"There was much more damage yesterday than a week ago" because Saturday's protests were more dispersed, deputy mayor Emmanuel Gregoire told local radio.

However, he added that there had been fewer injuries compared with last week.

Media playback is unsupported on your deviceMedia captionProtesters have taken to the streets of Paris for another weekend of demonstrations

President Emmanuel Macron - who many protesters want to stand down - will address the nation in the coming days.

How bad is the economic damage?

It is too early to calculate the full economic cost - but it's clear the damage is severe.

Image copyrightGetty Images

On Friday, the French retail federation told Reuters news agency that retailers had lost about 1bn euros ($1.1bn; £900m) since the protests first began on 17 November.

Mr Le Maire said last week, before the most recent protests, that the restaurant trade had declined by between 20% and 50%.

Meanwhile, the authorities in Paris say that riots have caused millions of pounds' worth of damage.

What is the yellow vest movement?

The movement began as a protest against a rise in duties on diesel, which is widely used by French motorists and has long been less heavily taxed than other types of fuel.

Diesel prices have risen by about 23% over the past 12 months - and Mr Macron's decision to impose a tax increase of 6.5 cents on diesel and 2.9 cents on petrol from 1 January enraged protesters.

Mr Macron had blamed world oil prices for three-quarters of the price rise, but said higher taxes on fossil fuels were needed to fund renewable energy investments.

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The rallies became known as the "yellow vest" or "gilet jaunes" movement because protesters took to the streets wearing the high-visibility yellow jackets that are required to be carried in every vehicle by French law.

The government has since agreed to scrap the fuel tax increase and has frozen electricity and gas prices for 2019.

But protests have also erupted over other issues, including calls for higher wages, lower taxes, better pensions and easier university entry requirements.

The movement's core aim, to highlight the economic frustration and political distrust of poorer working families, still has widespread support.

Media playback is unsupported on your deviceMedia captionGilets Jaunes: Are nationalists infiltrating the "yellow vests"?

An opinion poll on Friday suggested a dip in support for the protests, but it still stood at 66%.

Meanwhile, President Macron's ratings have fallen to 23% amid the crisis, polls suggest.

Protest timeline17 November: 282,000 protesters - one dead, 409 wounded - 73 in custody 24 November: 166,000 protesters - 84 wounded - 307 in custody 1 December: 136,000 protesters - 263 wounded - 630 in custody8 December : 125,000 protesters - 118 wounded - 1,723 arrested
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