France’s Macron launches ‘grand debate’ following protests

PARIS (AP) – French President Emmanuel Macron is formally launching a “grand debate” to try to appease the yellow vest movement following weeks of anti-government protests.

Macron headed yesterday to Grand Bourgtheroulde, a small town in Normandy, to meet about 600 mayors and local officials.

Some groups of yellow vest protesters have called for demonstrations in the town during the visit.

Authorities have issued a ban on traffic in the area and access is restricted to residents and local workers only. There will also be a high security presence.

Macron addressed this week a “letter to the French” to encourage people to express their views on a series of economic and political matters during a three-month “grand debate”.

Yellow vest protestors run for cover as French riot police advance during clashes in Lyon, central France. – AP

The consultation will take place through local meetings and on the Internet. The debate will focus on taxes, public services, climate change and democracy.

The French leader, whose popularity ratings hit record lows at the end of last year, hopes the process will help quell anger over his economic policies.

About 84,000 people turned out last weekend for the ninth straight round of anti-government demonstrations across France, according to the French Interior Ministry.

The yellow vest movement, prompted in November by a tax hike on diesel fuel, has expanded to encompass demands for wider changes to France’s economy to help struggling workers. Protestors have denounced Macron’s pro-business policies as favouring the rich.

The movement is named for the fluorescent garments French motorists are required to keep in vehicles.