Posts Tagged ‘protests’

In Vietnam, distrust of government’s China policy fuels protests

June 19, 2018

Protests by thousands of people in cities across Vietnam are showing just how easy it is to unite public opinion and mobilize dissent when an issue has one key ingredient: China.

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FILE PHOTO: Protesters hold a banner which reads “No Leasing Land to China even for Anytime” during a demonstration against a draft law on the Special Economic Zone in Hanoi, Vietnam June 10, 2018. REUTERS/Staff

The demonstrations, which are technically illegal, sprung up for a second consecutive week on Sunday, stoked by fears that proposed coastal economic zones for foreigners would be beachheads for an invasion of Chinese businesses.

The proposal makes no mention of China. But political analysts say Vietnamese minds were already made up, with popular Facebook posts reinforcing deep-rooted suspicion that Chinese interests are influencing state policy.

Central to the issue is a combustible mix of generations of anger over perceived Chinese bullying, and a lack of faith in Vietnam’s ruling communist party to do anything about it.

“The government underestimated the amount of anti-China sentiment in the country,” said Murray Hiebert, a Southeast Asia specialist at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

“There’s a constant undertone among many in Vietnam that the government isn’t doing enough to protect the country’s sovereignty against China,” Hiebert added.

Social media such as Facebook, used by half of Vietnam’s 90 million people, makes such fervor easy to stoke and hard to contain.

After protests spanned cities nationwide, the National Assembly last week postponed its vote on the economic zones until October.

Security was tightened on Sunday to prevent protests in major cities, but thousands still gathered in central Ha Tinh province, many with signs saying “No leasing land to Chinese communists for even one day.”

Tensions are likely to persist as long as China pushes its Belt and Road initiative to advance its overseas business, and takes stronger action to fortify its claims over almost the entire South China Sea.

China has been accelerating construction and militarization in the Spratly and Paracel islands claimed by Vietnam, and in March pressured Hanoi to suspend some major offshore oil drilling for the second time in the space of a year.

‘PATRIOTISM’ APPRECIATED

The Vietnamese government’s resistance to Chinese pressure has been limited.

The communist party top brass rarely acknowledges anti-China sentiment even exists in Vietnam. On Friday, house speaker Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan skirted the issue, saying the legislature “appreciates the people’s patriotism and their profound concerns about important issues.”

Party chief Nguyen Phu Trong weighed in on Sunday to reassure the public about the economic zones, which have 99-year leases, but also made no specific mention of China.

“No one is that foolish to hand over land to foreigners for them to come and mess things up,” state media quoted him saying.

The June 10 protests were in large part peaceful, but turned violent in central Binh Thuan province, where vehicles were set ablaze and angry mobs hurled rocks and charged at riot police.

Tran Vu Hai, a prominent lawyer, said the anger had been festering for years in Binh Thuan, where China is blamed for assaulting fishermen, polluting the land with a Chinese-built power plant, and for deforestation to mine minerals exported primarily to China.

Hai said people were venting fury not only at China, but at a local government, which is perceived as being corrupt and enslaved by destructive Chinese commercial interests.

“They don’t investigate why people are irritated and they don’t solve the people’s problems,” he said. “The trust in the authority in that area has already been lost.”

Analysts say the turnout and coordination of protests is now emboldening ordinary Vietnamese, but also complicating the party’s difficult balancing act of tolerating some dissent while keeping it under control.

That risks angering a vital trade partner that can hold Vietnam’s fast-growing economy hostage.

SKILLED INSTIGATION

The protests are being taken seriously by China; its diplomatic missions in Vietnam held meetings last week with Chinese business groups, local government and local media.

In one of several postings on the embassy’s website, it said charge d’affaires Yin Haihong “demanded” that Vietnamese authorities protect Chinese businesses and citizens.

Yin said the embassy had been informed by the Vietnamese authorities that people with “ulterior motives” had “deliberately misrepresented the situation and linked it to China.”

The recent rallies follow similar protests in 2014 after China’s deployment of an oil rig off central Vietnam, and months of demonstrations in 2016 over an environmental disaster at a steel plant run by Taiwan’s Formosa Plastics.

Responding to questions from Reuters, Vietnam foreign ministry spokeswoman Le Thi Thu Hang made no mention of China but said “extremists” had “incited illegal gatherings.” He added that Vietnam’s policies served its peoples’ interests and supported business and investment.

Nguyen Van Quynh, a well-known lawyer followed widely on Facebook, said it was clear that the rallies were organized and violence had been instigated. He said they showed meticulous planning and knowledge of state security procedures, and suggested Binh Thuan was a weak spot.

“The scale, organization, sophistication of the protests, riots are increasing, proving that there must be a person or a leading group with knowledge and skill for it to be organized this way,” Quynh said.

Some current and former lawmakers say it is time to revisit a long-delayed law to regulate demonstrations. The constitution allows freedom of assembly, but protests are often broken up by police and participants held for “causing public disorder.”

Others say it’s time to listen more to public opinion.

“The administration needs to care for what its people care for,” said Nguyen Si Dung, a former deputy head of the National Assembly office.

Additional reporting by John Ruwitch in SHANGHAI; Editing by Gerry Doyle

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Jordan PM Hani Mulki quits after austerity protests

June 4, 2018

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Jordan’s Prime Minister Hani Mulki has resigned after days of protests against tax rises and austerity measures.

The recent demonstrations in the country, which is a key Western ally, are the biggest in years.

Protesters have chanted anti-government slogans and clashed with police, who have fired tear gas and blocked roads.

The demonstrators say a new tax bill backed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) will hurt the poor and middle class.

The protests have continued for four consecutive nights, and police say dozens of people have been detained and more than forty members of the security forces have been injured.

Mr Mulki had refused to scrap the bill, saying it was up to parliament to decide whether to pass it or not.

His government said it needed the money to fund public services and said the new tax bill would mean higher earners pay more.

But protesters feared it would further worsen living standards. In recent years, Jordanians have seen prices rise with salaries failing to keep up.

Demonstrators have scuffled with police

Mr Mulki was sworn in as prime minister in June 2016. He is a former diplomat and government minister, and the son of former Prime Minister Fawzi Mulki.

On Monday, he was summoned by King Abdullah who demanded his resignation.

“Prime Minister Hani Mulki submitted his resignation to the king this afternoon during a meeting at the Husseiniyeh Palace and the king accepted the resignation,” a government source told AFP news agency.

In Jordan, the monarch has extensive powers and can appoint governments and approve legislation.

King Abdullah has reportedly asked Omar al-Razzaz, the education minister and a former World Bank economist, to form a new government.

Earlier this year, sales tax was increased and bread subsidies were scrapped as part of a plan to cut the country’s debt.

Mr Mulki said he hoped the reforms, which were needed to get Jordan’s economy “back on track”, would be complete by mid-2019.

King Abdullah has previously said that conflict in neighbouring Syria and Iraq has worsened Jordan’s financial situation.

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-44358039?SThisFB

Jordan’s King Abdullah expected to ask PM to resign

June 4, 2018

Jordan’s King Abdullah was expected on Monday to ask Prime Minister Hani Mulki to resign in a bid to soothe widespread anger over economic policies that has sparked the largest protests in several years, political sources said.

Reuters

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FILE PHOTO: Jordan’s Prime Minister Hani Mulki speaks to the media after the swearing-in ceremony for the new cabinet at the Royal Palace in Amman, Jordan, June 1, 2016. REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed/File Photo

The dismissal of Mulki was demanded in a series of protests against IMF-backed tax increases that have shaken the kingdom. The sources said King Abdullah had ordered Mulki for an audience in his palace later on Monday.

Mulki, a business-friendly politician, was appointed in May 2016 and given the responsibility of reviving a sluggish economy and business sentiment hit by regional turmoil.

Public anger over IMF-driven government policies has grown since a steep general sales tax hike earlier this year and the abolition of bread subsidies, a staple item for the poor.

The increases have caused Mulki’s popularity to plummet.

Thousands of Jordanians took to the streets of the capital, Amman, and in main provincial towns on Sunday in an extension of protests that began last Wednesday.

The protests widened on Saturday after Mulki refused to scrap a bill increasing personal and corporate taxes, saying it was up to parliament to decide.

Witnesses said demonstrators who converged near the Cabinet office said they would disband only if the government rescinded the tax bill it sent to parliament last month, which critics say would worsen living standards.

“The government has made us penniless … they have left us with no more money in our pockets,” chanted protesters.

Unions representing tens of thousands of employees in both the public and private sectors have also called for a general strike on Wednesday after their demands for the bill to be scrapped were rejected by the government.

The government says it needs more funds for public services and argues that tax changes reduce social disparities by placing a heavier burden on high earners and leaving lower-paid state workers relatively unscathed

Jordan’s economy has struggled to grow in the past few years in the face of chronic deficits as private foreign capital and aid flows have declined.

Politicians and economists say the tough IMF-imposed fiscal consolidation plan has worsened the plight of poorer Jordanian and squeezed the middle class.

Protesters have also slammed politicians for squandering public funds and corruption.

“Our demands are legitimate. No, no to corruption,” chanted the demonstrators urging King Abdullah, who is seen as a unifying force, to intervene and crack down on official graft.

Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by Peter Cooney

Jordan king summons PM over anti-government protests — “The people of Jordan will not kneel.”

June 4, 2018

Jordan’s King Abdullah has summoned the prime minister for a meeting that could pave the way for his resignation, a government source said Monday, after another night of protests against austerity measures.

Demonstrations have rocked the Jordanian capital and several other cities since Wednesday against a draft income tax law and price hikes based on recommendations by the International Monetary Fund.

© AFP | Jordanian security forces scuffle with protesters calling for the resignation of the prime minister in Amman late on June 3, 2018 as demonstrations grip Jordan over price hikes and a draft income tax law

Protesters have called on Prime Minister Hani Mulki to step down, vowing they will not “kneel” and earning support from trade unions as well as a majority of MPs opposed to the new taxation.

“King Abdullah has summoned the prime minister to a meeting before noon today Monday that could pave the way for his resignation,” said the government source who declined to be identified.

It came hours after around 5,000 people rallied outside Mulki’s office in Amman, on the fifth consecutive day of protests in the Jordanian capital and other cities.

“Oh Mulki listen well, the people of Jordan will not kneel,” they chanted as they faced down a heavy security presence.

Some demonstrators held up signs that read: “We will continue (to protest) until the government quits”.

Jordan, a mostly desert kingdom with few resources, has seen prices of several basic goods and services like bread, fuel and electricity steadily rise over the past year.

At dawn Monday, Crown Prince Hussein bin Abdullah visited the protest site outside the prime minister’s office and spoke to security forces who had deployed en masse to keep protesters at bay.

“They must be able to express themselves and voice their opinions and our duty is to protect them,” the crown prince told security forces in reference to the protesters.

“We and they support the King. We want to protect this country,” he added.

Last month, the government proposed a new income tax law, yet to be approved by parliament, aimed at raising taxes on employees by at least five percent and on companies by between 20 and 40 percent.

The measures are the latest in a series of economic reforms since Amman secured a $723-million three-year credit line from the International Monetary Fund in 2016.

The protest campaign started on Wednesday when hundreds responded to a call by Jordan’s trade unions by flooding the streets outside the headquarters of the federation of unions.

Since then nighttime protests have gripped Amman and other major cities in the cash-strapped country of 9.5 million.

According to official estimates, 18.5 percent of Jordan’s population are unemployed, while 20 percent are on the brink of poverty.

The Economist Intelligence Unit earlier this year ranked Jordan’s capital as one of the most expensive in the Arab world.

AFP

Jordan’s protesters are young and wary of their cause being hijacked

June 4, 2018

“Participants want to be sure no external group hijacks the current protests, as happened in the Arab Spring”

The demographics of the protesters are young, people between the age of 25 and 35, and the mode of communication is, of course, social media

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Jordanian protesters shout slogans and raise a national flag during a demonstration outside the Prime Minister’s office in the capital Amman late on Saturday. AFP
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Jordanians involved in the anti-government protests in opposition to the draft income tax law appear to be well-organized, mature in their approach and focused on specific goals.
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The demonstrations started on Wednesday in Amman, organized by professional unions against the draft tax laws required by the International Monetary Fund.
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But unlike in the protests staged in Jordan in 2011 at the height of the Arab Spring, observers said most participants are not ideological and the protests are not limited to just men.
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Hiba Obeidat, who took part in the 2011 demonstrations, told Arab News that the current protests reflect a young population that has matured.
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“This is different from the first Arab Spring. Participants want to make sure that the mistakes of 2011 are not repeated.
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“Participants want to be sure no external group hijacks the current protests, as happened in the Arab Spring when the Muslim Brotherhood benefitted from the protests of the largely secular participants.
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“New people are joining, and many ad hoc. No one is trying to hijack the effort and if anyone does they will be dealt with in a wise and mature way,” said Obeidat.
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Rawan Jayyousi, a radio presenter, told Arab News that many of those participating are disciplined and organized, and it seems they are well trained.
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“They are acting properly to women and are acting in a way that ensures that the protests are successful. They know how far they can go and they are not trying to escalate the rhetoric for no reason.”
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Jayyousi said it was clear the organizers have succeeded in buiilding an interesting relationship with the security forces.
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The protests have continued until the early hours of the morning, largely because of Ramadan.
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Those protesting until the early hours take time at the end of the protests to shake hands with the security forces and to clean up the debris left behind.
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Mohammad Alabsi, 33, who works at a local bank and is a leader in Hizb Al-Widha al Shaabieh (Popular Unity Party) said he and others like him are working closely with the professional unions which triggered the current round of protests with their call for a strike last Wednesday.
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“Today we are trying to apply lessons from previous efforts and we don’t want to widen our efforts in such a way that it will become hard to accomplish anything. We want to focus on singular goals rather than general ones.”
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Rawan Jayyousi told Arab News that many women are participating, and they are not complaining about harassment as in previous times.
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“Females are not acting as second fiddle. We saw both on Friday night and Saturday night young women who were leading the cheers, and also one time when a person was arrested women were involved,” she said.
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The demographics of the protesters are young, people between the age of 25 and 35, and the mode of communication is, of course, social media.
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The most trending hashtag is #manash, a Jordanian slang word for being broke. Social media has been widely used both as a means to recruit participants and to communicate between them, as well as replacing traditional media.
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Shortly after one group reached a particular location in Amman, a call was made on social media and within minutes floods of protesters joined them. Live streaming was the favorite means of publicity, along with short video reports that have received tens of thousands of views.
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Mohammad Shamma, a human rights activist, told Arab News that intense discussions have taken place between activists.
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“Civil society organizations are trying to figure out what their role is. Are we supposed to take a leadership role, or is our job to raise awareness among the participants?”
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As a result of the discussion, Shamma and a small group of civil society practitioners made up of lawyers and human rights workers decided to create a social media group that can act both as a monitor of any human rights violations and a source of legal and other information to participants.
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They plan to issue a daily report on the situation and any violations with the hope that these reports will raise awareness among protesters.
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“A sign of the maturity of the protesters is that people are talking positively about their country and Jordan while at the same time talking about the need to revisit the economic policies,” Shamma told Arab News.
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Arab News
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http://www.arabnews.com/node/1314946/middle-east

France’s far left leads protests against Macron reforms

May 26, 2018

France’s main far left party, the hardline CGT trade union and some 80 other organizations, led several thousand people in street protests across France on Saturday against French President Emmanuel Macron’s reforms of the public sector.

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Protesters walk behind a banner which reads, “We’re held up – The greater Paris” during a demonstration by French unions and the France Insoumise” (France Unbowed) political party to protest against government reforms, in Paris, France, May 26, 2018. REUTERS/Gonzalo FuentesREUTERS

Organizers hoped that the protests would grow further into a groundswell of support against Macron’s reform of France’s public service and some state enterprises such as the heavily indebted national railway company SNCF.

“We are going to carry a message (and) this message must be heard by the strong-headed Emmanuel Macron,” Jean-Luc Melenchon, leader of the far left France Unbowed party, told a cheering crowd before the protest set off in the southern port city of Marseille.

Melenchon listed a number of grievances including staff shortages at hospitals, limited admissions at universities, and lack of police in tough neighborhoods, because the government says it does not have the means to fund them.

“We do not believe you because you are lying,” Melenchon said, adding that Macron’s government had given a 4.5 billion euros ($5.25 billion) tax break to the rich which could have been invested in hospitals.

“The country is rich. The country must share,” Melenchon said.

In Paris, Police said some 30 people were arrested before the start of the march for various offences.

Holding banners and chanting slogans, protesters are expected to hold rallies in at least 160 places across France, CGT Secretary General Philippe Martinez said, adding that Macron should listen to the growing anger.

Unions have staged several nationwide strikes since the start of the year, while SNCF rail workers have been carrying out rolling strikes on two of every five days of the week since April over plans to reform the company and open it to competition.

Macron, 40, who came to power a year-ago promising to push through tough reforms, has shown no sign of surrender so far.

In comments last Friday, Macron said the so-called popular wave protest led by Melenchon would not stop him and said the opposition had failed to bring forward any concrete proposals.

(Reporting by Bate Felix, Caroline Pailliez and Emmanuel Jarry)

Reuters

Palestinians gather for more protests along Gaza border

May 4, 2018

Hundreds of Palestinians began gathering on the Gaza border Friday for the sixth week of protests in which dozens have already been killed by Israeli fire.

© AFP | Palestinians take part in a protest demanding the right to return to their historic homelands in what is now Israel, at the Israel-Gaza border, east of Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip, on May 4, 2018.

At a protest camp east of Gaza City, several hundred people prepared for demonstrations expected to gain momentum in the mid-afternoon following the main weekly Muslim prayers.

Organisers said part of Friday’s plans included attempting to fly dozens of kites, some carrying Molotov cocktails, over the border fence.

A 32-year-old man wearing a camouflage hat with his face masked, a traditional keffiyeh scarf around his neck, said they hoped to fly around 50 kites.

“We hope to return back to our land, which is occupied,” said the man who declined to give his name. “I’m not afraid, only of Allah.”

Forty-nine Palestinians have been killed since protests and clashes began along the Gaza border on March 30 and hundreds of others have been wounded from gunfire.

Israel says it only opens fire when necessary to stop infiltrations, damage to the fence and attacks.

– Molotov cocktails –

In central Gaza, dozens were gathering east of the Bureij refugee camp.

Youths met behind a series of bunkers reinforced with sandbags in the area leading up to the border with Israel, while older demonstrators remained further back at protest tents.

Piles of dozens of tyres were also being prepared to burn later in the day.

A group of Palestinian youths threw stones in the direction of Israeli soldiers, who had taken up position some 50 metres (yards) away on the other side of the fence.

A Guy Fawkes mask strapped to his belt and a Palestinian flag around his neck, Abdullah Issa, 22, said they hoped to send dozens of kites with Molotov cocktails over the fence.

“We will put Molotov cocktails on the Israeli farms,” Issa said.

“They have no solution for the kites.”

Israeli media have in recent days reported significant damage to farms due to kite-flown Molotov cocktails, though the devices face difficult odds in making it across the fence while still lit.

Israel accuses Hamas, the Islamist movement that runs Gaza and with whom it has fought three wars since 2008, of seeking to use the weekly protests as a cover to carry out violence.

No Israelis have been hurt and Palestinians say protesters are being shot while posing no danger to soldiers.

The military has faced international criticism over its use of live fire, with the United Nations and European Union calling for an independent investigation rejected by Israel.

Demonstrators are demanding the right to return to their homes seized by Israel in 1948, which Israel argues would effectively spell the end of their country.

The protests are due to continue until mid-May and grow in the run-up to the planned move of the United States embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem on May 14.

The move has deeply angered the Palestinians, who see the Israeli-annexed eastern sector of the city as the capital of their future state.

AFP

France’s CGT urges broader anti-Macron protests, other unions keep their distance

April 19, 2018

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A man holds a placard reading “Brussels Macron derailed” during a demonstration against the French government’s reform plans in Paris as part of a national day of protest, France, April 19, 2018. REUTERS/Benoit TessierREUTERS

BY BRIAN LOVE

PARIS (Reuters) – France’s far-left CGT labor union sought to broaden resistance to hard-hitting economic reforms on Thursday, urging employees across the public sector to join striking railway workers in their showdown with President Emmanuel Macron.

There was no clear evidence that anything of the kind was about to happen, however, even as rolling stoppages by rail workers halted train services for the eighth day this month.

The CGT’s goal is a “convergence des luttes” or “convergence of struggles” – a storm of public discontent where protests of different origins fuse into one widespread upheaval against government, something like in May 1968 or more recently at the end of 1995.

But a CGT strike call at the Paris subway train and bus group RATP appeared to have little impact: RATP management reported normal service across most of the grid.

More moderate unions involved with the CGT in the industrial action at the state-owned SNCF railway group also kept their distance from the Communist-rooted CGT as it asked others to join the protest action by striking or taking part in street marches.

“This is a political operation, not a union one,” Laurent Berger, one of the most influential labor leaders in the country, said of the CGT initiative.

That not only highlighted the underlying divisions and turf battles for membership subscriptions that permanently plague the labor movement but also more profound divergences between the Communist-rooted CGT and Berger’s more reform-friendly CFDT.

Berger said his union had nothing to do with a day of street marches organized by the CGT on Thursday afternoon.

He said he did not share the CGT penchant for a “convergence of struggles” between rail workers, power sector employees, state hospital staff and even some students involved in very separate protests about university entry criteria.

While his union is backing the rail strike alongside the CGT and other unions, the CFDT is fighting Macron for concessions on debt cancellation and a new collective bargaining deal to cover rail workers when the SNCF reform ends its rail monopoly, and with it the protected job status of all future SNCF recruits.

The CGT opposes the principle of liberalization and a pact under which all European Union governments have committed to start phasing out all passenger rail monopolies from 2020.

Forty-year-old Macron has stood firm and on Wednesday urged the unions to “stop holding the country hostage”.

His government hopes union divisions will ultimately work in its favor, and the lower house of parliament this week approved the bill that enshrines most of the envisaged SNCF reforms.

Public support for the SNCF protest is weaker than for all but one of several dozen major protests over the last 20 years in France, according to an Ifop poll published last Sunday. It showed 42 percent were sympathetic to the strikers.

That compared with much bigger support rates of two-thirds or so when strikes in late 1995 waged by rail workers snowballed into a broader public sector protest movement, forcing the government of the time to abandon rail and welfare reforms.

While polls suggest 60 percent of the French want Macron to pursue his rail shake-up, he is walking on eggs after cutting wealth tax and housing aid and raising pensioner taxes. Those changes, the polls say, have cemented voter belief that Macron is bad for purchasing power and economic equality.

(Reporting By Brian Love; Editing by Ingrid Melander and Hugh Lawson)

French students dig in for a bitter battle against Macron’s reforms

April 19, 2018

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© Bertrand Guay, AFP | Students block the entrance to Sciences Po university on April 18, 2018 in Paris.

Video by FRANCE 24

Text by FRANCE 24 

Latest update : 2018-04-19

French President Emmanuel Macron faces mass demonstrations Thursday as students join trade unionists and public sector workers opposed to his reform plans. Students are protesting a bid to overhaul the university admission system.

he main entrance to another French university was blocked Wednesday by protesting students – only this time, it was the alma mater of French President Emmanuel Macron, whose reforms the students oppose.

A group of around 70 students are occupying the prestigious Sciences Po university in the sixth arrondissement of the French capital. They are part of a nationwide show of force by students and other groups opposed to the Macron’s  plans to reform the university admission system, making it more merit-based and selective.

Right now, French high school students enter their university choices into an online platform, which then allocates admission spots according to student preferences, or for highly sought-after programmes, at random. While highly egalitarian, this system leads to one in three students dropping out within the first year.

This made no sense, was profoundly unjust, and simply an absurd form of selection. We believe there’s a need to guide, accompany and inform prospective students,” said French Minister of Higher Education Frédérique Vidal, in an interview with FRANCE 24’s sister station, Radio France Internationale (RFI).

Egalité without merit

The reputation of France’s higher education system has been falling in recent years. Only one French university made it into the top 100 of the Times Higher Education 2018 World Reputation Rankings. But at 72, Paris Sciences and Letters – PSL University lagged behind top US, Asian-Pacific and other European institutions.

While French university fees are minimal compared to most of their worldwide counterparts, the lack of selection leads to high levels of failure, which puts satisfaction ratings of French universities for international students at among the lowest in Western Europe.

The Macron administration’s higher education reforms are aimed at tackling the selection process with a proposed bill enabling public universities to rank applicants and accept them based on their academic merit.

Re-enacting May 1968

But student groups opposed to the plan are joining trade unionists, public sector workers and train drivers protesting Macron’s reforms.

Last month, a student protest at Montpellier University in southern France gained national attention when the dean of the school called in masked thugs to break up a demonstration which saw students occupying the law school auditorium. The masked men, who evicted the students, included junior professors and doctoral students, according to witnesses.

While Dean Philippe Pétel defended the actions of the masked men, Minister Vidal disagreed. “The violence committed at the University of Montpellier is unacceptable,” she tweeted, adding that two professors who were taken into custody as part of the investigation had been suspended. French authorities also placed Pétel under formal investigation.

Frédérique Vidal

@VidalFrederique

Les universités sont des lieux de débat pas de violence. Dans leur immense majorité, les professeurs d’université sont là pour accompagner, former les étudiants, pour leur apprendre à débattre sans violence. @franceinfo

Frédérique Vidal

@VidalFrederique

Les violences commises à @umontpellier sont inacceptables. Les deux professeurs qui ont été hier placés en garde à vue dans le cadre de l’enquête sont immédiatement suspendus de leurs fonctions

Meanwhile a French court has ordered protesters occupying the University of Montpellier to clear out immediately or face eviction.

Although Pétel’s actions succeeded in inflaming sentiments, opinion polls suggest the majority of French citizens back Macron’s proposed reforms.

A poll of 16,000 students at the University of Strasbourg, one of several blocked campuses, found 72 percent wanted teaching to resume, bolstering Macron’s view that a minority are behind the sit-ins.

On the barricades and in the streets of Paris though, many of the banners hark back to May 1968, when campus protests snowballed into nationwide strikes. Exactly 50 years after “Soixante-huit” — as the events of May 1968 as known in France — disgruntled students, trade unionist and public sector workers have been marking that milestone in contemporary French history by attempting to re-enact them on the streets of France.

The outcome of this attempt at remaking old history is still to be decided as France is widely expected to experience another summer of discontent.

Transportation strikes and university protests continue to shake France

April 17, 2018

© Gerard Julien, AFP | Public railways SNCF railworkers demonstrate against planned reforms of the French government on April 13, 2018 in Paris as strikes on France’s rail network continue.

France 24, AFP and AP

A new strike by Air France employees Tuesday will add to chaos in France, which is already reeling from strikes by rail workers and university students over proposed public sector reforms by President Emmanuel Macron.

To Macron’s dismay, the popular movements show no signs of slowing down.

The Air France tussle over salaries is separate from the larger and politically more significant stand-off between Macron’s centrist, business-friendly government and the public sector trade unions fighting its reform plans.

Rail unions are particularly up in arms over proposed reforms that they say would reduce job security. Students have been blocking several public universities over Macron’s plan to introduce more selective applications.

There is a general atmosphere of social discontent against Macron’s reforms, including protests and strikes by civil servants, energy workers and garbage collectors.

Recently, Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire admitted that, while he couldn’t produce numbers, it was clear that the strikes were impacting growth.

“We have already identified an impact in certain sectors, including hotel reservations, transportation and tourism,” he told French radio Europe 1.

FRANCE 24 takes a look at the latest on the three main strikes.

Air France

About 30 percent of Air France flights scheduled on Tuesday are expected to be canceled due to a strike over pay. Crews and ground staff, whose wages have been frozen since 2011, are seeking a 6percent pay rise. This will mark their eighth day of walkouts since February.

Some 45 percent of long-haul flights will be canceled along with 35 percent of medium-haul flights to and from Paris. According to Air France, the strikes could cost the company upwards of €220 million.

On Monday, Air France’s management offered a 2 percent rise this year followed by an increase totaling 5 percent over the following three years. Unions have until the end of the week to decide whether to accept the deal.

The pilots’ main union, SNPL Air France, said Tuesday the offer doesn’t meet its demands. Union President Philippe Evain called it “totally ridiculous and indecent”.

Check the Aéroports de Paris website for the latest flight information by clicking here.

SNCF

The fourth edition of an ongoing strike by workers at the French national rail carrier the SNCF was set to begin Tuesday evening as the National Assembly prepared to vote on a bill addressing rail sector reforms.

The main union, the CGT, has denounced the reforms and promised a major strike on April 18 and 19 in response.

The union also pledged its commitment to the rolling strike  which is set to continue until at least June 28, causing weeks of headaches for the network’s 4.5 million daily passengersTraffic will be disrupted two days out of every five.

The SNCF said it will post updates of train schedules on its website at 17:00 each day, letting commuters know which trains will be running. Below are the proposed dates for train strikes over the next three months:

April

  • Tuesday 3 and Wednesday 4
  • Sunday 8 and Monday 9
  • Friday 13 and Saturday 14
  • Wednesday 18 and Thursday 19
  • Monday 23 and Tuesday 24
  • Saturday 28 and Sunday 29

May:

  • Thursday 3 and Friday 4
  • Tuesday 8 and Wednesday 9
  • Sunday 13 and Monday 14
  • Friday 18 and Saturday 19
  • Wednesday 23 and Thursday 24
  • Monday 28 and Tuesday 29

June:

  • Saturday 2 and Sunday 3
  • Thursday 7 and Friday 8
  • Tuesday 12 and Wednesday 13
  • Sunday 17 and Monday 18
  • Friday 22 and Saturday 23
  • Wednesday 27 and Thursday 28

On strike days, national rail services will be severely impacted, with traffic almost halved. International rail travel will also be hit, with three out of four trains running.

In Paris, public transport will operate almost as normal. Regional trains, including the RER B (which connects the city to its main airport, Roissy Charles de Gaulle or CDG), will be impacted the most by the strike, with an average of three out of four trains running.

Check the SNCF website for updated travel information by clicking here.

Universities

Four different universities in France are still closed due to protests that started in February in response to a law proposing to restrict university access. Ten or 12 other sites have been partially blocked by students. The protests have meant that, in some locations, students are unable to sit their exams.

In an attempt to slash high failure rates among first-year undergraduates, a new law that passed in February seeks in part to personalise the admissions process, controversially chipping away at the principle of automatic entry for French high school graduates. Until now, places in the most popular courses of study have been attributed by drawing lots, without regard for a candidate’s grades or qualifications. For critics, any nudge towards “sélection” is sacrilege.

>> Masked men attack protesting students in Montpellier

One university in total shutdown is Nanterre, known as the birthplace of the famous student protests that ripped across France in May 1968.

On Monday there was a police intervention at Paul Valéry University in the southern town of Montpellier. Last week, someone hacked into the university’s servers, compromising its ability to hold exams.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS and AP)