Macron Calls on French to Participate in National Debate to End Protests

Protesters took to the streets in France for the ninth weekend in a row

Protesters took to the streets in France for the ninth weekend in a row

Macron and his centrist administration have been under intense pressure since November when public anger over an eco-tax on petrol and diesel sparked the gilets jaunesmovement.Although the tax was dropped, protests have widened to adopt a wide range of anti-government grievances.

Paris police said in a statement they made several arrests before Saturday's actions, notably in France's historic Gypsy or traveler community, which has called for protests in support of a boxer caught on video punching police last weekend in central Paris.

Thousands of protesters in Paris marched noisily but mostly peacefully through the Grands Boulevards shopping area in northern Paris, close to where a massive gas explosion in a bakery killed two firefighters and a Spanish tourist and injured almost 50 people early on Saturday.

But small groups of demonstrators broke away from the designated route and threw bottles and other projectiles at the police.

"Macron, we are going to tear down your place!" read one banner.

Some 8,000 demonstrators were on the streets - more than in the past two weekends, when authorities counted just 3,500 people on 5 January and 800 on 29 December, according to interior ministry figures.

Much of central Paris was in lockdown on the first week of post-Christmas sales, with bridges across the Seine river closed and official buildings such as parliament and the Elysee presidential palace protected by police barriers.

By mid-afternoon there had been no major clashes with police, unlike in previous weeks.

Although independent of parties and unions, the movement shares numerous RN's demands: proportional representation in parliament, direct democracy through Swiss-style referendums, less European integration and - above all - Macron's resignation.

"We call on the spokespersons of the "Yellow Vests" to solemnly condemn increasing violence against journalists during demonstrations", he tweeted.

A few hundred protesters also clashed with police in the historic centre of Bourges, where almost 5,000 people gathered as organisers sought to draw more participants from areas far from Paris. No serious violence or looting was reported there.

Born from a grassroots protest against high fuel prices, the yellow vests have become a broad and sometimes violent movement demanding more social justice for low-skilled workers left behind by globalization, deregulation and European Union integration.

During a speech in Paris, party leader Marine Le Pen urged voters to seize the May 26 vote as a chance to "beat" French President Emmanuel Macron after weeks of anti-government protests.

Le Pen suggested the yellow vest protests against Macron's economic policies during the last two months could help her populist party at the ballot box. Their rage stems from a squeeze on household incomes and a belief that Macron, a former investment banker seen as close to big business, is indifferent to their hardships.

But aides of Mr Macron have said changing the course of reforms aimed at liberalising the economy will be off limits.

Citizens of France would be asked to discuss issues such as cutting taxes and public spending, the use of referendums and immigration quotas.

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