France protests ‘an economic catastrophe’

BBC – The “yellow vest” protests have been “a catastrophe” for the French economy,the finance minister says.

France has seen four consecutive weekends of demonstrations against fuel tax rises, high living costs, and other issues.

About 125,000 protesters took to the streets on Saturday, with more than 1,700 people arrested.

Several tourist sites, including the Eiffel Tower and Louvre Museum, are closed this weekend.

Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire called the situation “a crisis” for both society and democracy.

“It’s a catastrophe for commerce, it’s a catastrophe for our economy,” he said during a visit to shops in Paris that had been damaged during the protests.

The capital was particularly badly hit, with windows smashed, cars burned, and shops looted, as 10,000 people took part in demonstrations.

“There was much more damage yesterday than a week ago” because Saturday’s protests were more dispersed, deputy mayor Emmanuel Gregoire told local radio.

However, he added that there had been fewer injuries compared with last week.

Mean while Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian responded angrily to US President Donald Trump, who on Saturday in tweets appeared to suggest the ParisClimate Agreement was the reason for the unrest.

“I say this to Donald Trump and the French president says it too: leave our nation be,” Mr Le Drian said.

President Emmanuel Macron – who many protesters want to stand down – will address the nation in the coming days.

How bad is the economic damage?

It is too early to calculate the full economic cost – but it’s clear the damage is severe.

Le Parisien newspaper reported that in the capital about 50 vehicles had been burnt and dozens of businesses vandalised, with some of them looted.

On Friday, the French retail federation told Reuters news agency that retailers had lost about 1bn euros ($1.1bn; £900m) since the protests first began on 17 November.

Mr LeMaire said last week, before the most recent protests, that the restaurant trade had declined by between 20% and 50%.

Meanwhile, the authorities in Paris say that riots have caused millions of pounds of damage.

There are concerns that the protests could lead to a drop in tourism. Paris was visited by a recordnumber of tourists in 2017 – more than 40 million, theParis Tourism Office said last month.

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