Yellow vest arrest labelled ‘political’
One of the leaders of the gilets jaunes or “yellow vest” demonstrations in France was detained and then released in Paris, suggesting the authorities are moving to tackle the crisis.
A truck driver from south of Paris, Eric Drouet, already faces prosecution for having a weapon, a baton, at a previous demonstration. He was arrested this week for organising an unauthorised protest on the Champs-Elysées and released yesterday (Thursday).
His lawyer said the “baton” was just a piece of wood that was in his bag, saying the arrest was politically motivated to discredit him.
Drouet has been encouraging people to gather and lay candles near the Champs-Elysées for those who had died during the protests to “shock public opinion”.
Drouet called his arrest “incomprehensible”.
“I’m not the yellow vests’ representative. With or without me, it will continue. It wasn’t a call for a demonstration,” Drouet, 33, said, denying accusations he called for a protest on the Champs-Elysees this week.
“Everything that has happened here, it’s political.”
Drouet is credited with suggesting drivers block or slow traffic on November 17, causing enough disruption to attract government attention.
The yellow vests must be carried in all French cars and are worn by motorists in distress. Their “distress” has been caused by President Emmanuel Macron’s decision to raise fuel taxes.
Macron was more defiant in his new year address, vowing to push ahead with his reforms and “make no allowances in guaranteeing public order”.
He criticised unnamed activists claiming to speak for the French people.
The 41-year-old said they were “the mouthpieces of a hate-filled crowd who target elected representatives, security forces, journalists, Jews, foreigners and homosexuals”.
French protest organisers are required to inform the authorities at least three days in advance, but “yellow vests” have flouted the rule since the largely spontaneous demonstrations began in late November.
Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire said: “It’s called respecting the rule of law.”
“It’s normal that when you break the laws of the republic, you face the consequences.”
Extremist National Rally leader Marine Le Pen accused the government of “systematic violation of the political rights of opponents” and one of her senior assistants Wallerand de Saint-Just called Drouet a “hero” and a “martyr”.
Drouet has been accused of voting for Le Pen in the presidential election last year, which he denied.
His widely shared Facebook videos often showed him in his truck calling for nationwide protests against increased fuel taxes.
The gilets jaunes protests have been extremely violent. Picture credit: YouTube