France fuel protest: Hundreds injured as protests continue

Protesters pledged to target tollbooths, roundabouts and the bypass that rings Paris on Saturday.

A spokesman for the movement in the western region of Morbihan said "tomorrow we will be joined by lorry drivers", while in the city of Le Mans, southwest of Paris, protesters said that farmers would help them block a major motorway, the A28 leading up to the Picardy coast. "There were fights among "yellow vest" protesters".

The diesel tax increases, created to encourage drivers to switch to more environmentally-friendly cars, were approved in late 2017 but began to bite when oil prices surged in October, angering some in the provinces who rely on their cars to get to work.

Far-left party Unbowed France's leader Jean-Luc Melenchon said the number of protesters was much higher than the interior ministry's assessment and accused the government of "dramatizing" the movement.

The protester who died, a 63-year-old woman, was killed when a driver caught in traffic accelerated in a panic at Pont-de-Beauvoisin, near Chambery in France's south-east, according to Louis Laugier, the prefect, or top state official, in the Savoie region. "There were assaults, fights, stabbings", Castaner said.

French Interior Ministry officials estimated at midday that about 125,000 protesters were involved in some 2000 demonstrations around the country, many of them spontaneous.

Almost 300,000 protesters paralyzed traffic at more than 2,000 strategic sites around France on Saturday in a bid to force the government to lower taxes on diesel fuel and gasoline. It said 52 people were detained and 38 held for questioning.

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In a similar scenario, police cleared out the huge traffic circle around the Arc de Triomphe, paralyzed for hours by protesters. According to various French media reports, the protesters reportedly knocked on her vehicle as she tried to take her daughter to a hospital.

The president came to power a year ago vowing to overhaul the French economy and argues the hikes are needed to wean the French people off fossil fuels.

But he said he would not rescind increases on fuel tax - set to rise again in January. The tax on gasoline is to increase 4 euro cents. Many drivers see them as emblematic of a presidency disconnected from day-to-day economic difficulties and serving the rich.

Macron's popularity has plunged, hovering around 30 percent. He also said more tax on fossil fuels was needed to fund renewable energy investments.

"We've had enough of it".

Separately, ambulances briefly blocked Paris's Champs-Elysees on Friday to protest against new rules on ambulance financing and put pressure on Mr Macron's government.

  • Sonia Alvarado