French students join 'gilet jaunes' in protest

Fresh protests over education reforms follow violent demonstrations over fuel tax hikes

Protesters overturn a vehicle on December 6, 2018 in Marseille, southern France, during  a demonstration of high school students protesting against French government Education reforms .  / AFP / GERARD JULIEN
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More than 150 schools across France were closed on Thursday after students went on strike over education reforms adding to the woes of embattled President Emmanuel Macron after three weeks of violent protests over a fuel tax hike.

Riding on the wave of the “gilet jaunes” (or “yellow vests”) movement, students demanded the abandonment of changes to the exam and university entry system introduced by the Macron government last year.

Student unions called a day of action on Thursday after three days of lower level protests.

Classes were cancelled after a makeshift barricade of waste bins stopped anyone getting inside the Alexandre-Dumas high school, in the western suburbs of Paris, which used to be attended by far-right leader Maine Le Pen.

According to one witness, “they were only 10 or 15 people who blocked the school,” French media reported.

The “gilet jaunes”, who have been donning the yellow visibility jackets in protest over fuel tax hikes over the past three weeks, condemned on Thursday “all forms of violence” and launched “a clear and explicit appeal to calm.”

Violent anarchist and far-right groups infiltrated the Saturday protests and are thought to be behind many of the clashes that disfigured Paris with graffiti.

The movement’s organisers condemned the vandalism that took place “amidst the expression of legitimate anger” that prompted the government to “finally guarantee real negotiations”.

Mr Macron was criticised on Tuesday for proposing a six-month suspension of the tax, rather than its cancellation. Prime Minister Eduoard Philippe announced that three other fuel tax plans would be frozen to ease tensions.

The announcement came as negotiators from 197 countries attended a climate summit in Poland that seeks to ensure countries respect commitments made in Paris in 2015.

Tax hikes introduced by Mr Macron were part of the president’s effort to cut carbon emissions by 40 per cent by 2030 and boost clean energy, in line with the agreement.

Mr Philippe did not attend the summit as he attempted to deal with his country's worst urban violence in more than a decade.


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