Paris Riots Reveal Larger Fracture in French Society

A demonstrator walks past a burning barricade near the Arc de Triomphe on the Champs-Elysees avenue during a demonstration Saturday, Dec.1, 2018 in Paris. A French protest against rising taxes and the high cost of living turned into a riot Saturday in Paris as police fired tear gas and water cannon in street battles with activists wearing the fluorescent yellow vests of a new movement. (AP Photo/Kamil Zihnioglu)

A demonstrator walks past a burning barricade near the Arc de Triomphe on the Champs-Elysees avenue during a demonstration Saturday, Dec.1, 2018 in Paris. A French protest against rising taxes and the high cost of living turned into a riot Saturday in Paris as police fired tear gas and water cannon in street battles with activists wearing the fluorescent yellow vests of a new movement. (AP Photo/Kamil Zihnioglu)

A grassroots protest movement in France has ballooned and radicalized, unleashing anger that devastated the heart of Paris in weekend riots and revealed a fracture in the country between the haves and have-nots.

Tough talk by unpopular President Emmanuel Macron, who has been roundly blamed for the chaos, isn’t likely to mend the growing sense of social injustice. Discontent about the rising cost of living among the “little people,” as many protesters call themselves, had been growing, along with a sense of marginalization. The approach of Macron’s fuel tax increases in January, meant to wean the French off fossil fuels, has caused things to snap.

The weekend violence in Paris, in which more than 130 people were injured and over 400 were arrested, was the worst in the country in decades, officials have said. The protesters say they want to level a playing field that they believe is tipped in favor of the elite and well-off city dwellers.

The fuel tax “was the spark,” said Thierry Paul Valette, a Paris protest coordinator, in an AP interview.

“If it hadn’t been (that), it would have been something else.” “People want fair fiscal justice. They want social justice,” he added, as well as improved purchasing power.

Members of the nationwide movement call themselves the “yellow vests,” after the fluorescent safety clothing that all French motorists are obliged to keep in their cars.