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French President Emmanuel Macron is formally launching a “grand debate” to try to appease the yellow vest movement following weeks of anti-government protests.
Macron heads Tuesday to Grand Bourgtheroulde, a small town in Normandy, where he is to meet about 600 mayors and local officials.
Despite a high security presence, a ban on traffic and restricted access to the town, dozens of yellow vests protesters gathered outside the town to express their discontent.
“We are being prevented from accessing the village,” said protester Florence Clement. “I was crossing the road with my yellow vest but I was asked to remove it because it’s forbidden.”
Macron started his journey with a stop in the small town of Gasny to attend a local officials’ meeting, where some expressed their concerns over the loss of purchasing power of retirees and civil servants.
Macron addressed this week a “letter to the French” to encourage people to express their views on a series of economic and political matters during a three-month “grand debate.”
The consultation will take place through local meetings and on the internet. The debate will focus on taxes, public services, climate change and democracy.
The French leader, whose popularity ratings hit record lows at the end of last year, hopes the process will help quell anger over his economic policies.
About 84,000 people turned out last weekend for the ninth round of anti-government demonstrations across France, according to the French Interior Ministry.
The yellow vest movement, prompted in November by a tax hike on diesel fuel, has expanded to encompass demands for wider changes to France’s economy to help struggling workers. Protesters have denounced Macron’s pro-business policies as favoring the rich.
The movement is named for the fluorescent garments French motorists are required to keep in vehicles.