Who Are The Protesters In Yellow Vests?

For weeks, the streets of France have been on fire. 

Protesters donning fluorescent yellow high visibility jackets have blocked roads in protests across the country, converging under the Arc de Triomphe and atop the Champs Elysee singing 'La Marseillaise'.

They've turned violent, as hundreds of thousands of anti-government protesters threw rocks, torched cars and vandalised shops and restaurants over four weekends.

It's being hailed the worst unrest the capital has seen since student riots in 1968, and one that has shaken French President Emmanuel Macron to his core.

Teargas is thrown in the air as people wearing Yellow Vests rally near the Arc De Triomphe on December 1 in Paris. Image: Getty

With undertones of a deep resentment among those who barely earn enough to live, the 'gillets jaunes' movement has spread to Belgium -- and there are suggestions it isn't going anywhere anytime soon.

What do they want?

The "yellow vests" movement began as as a revolt against tax hikes raising the price of fuel by protesters who lived in rural or less populated parts of the country and were reliant on public transport.

But it soon became clear their resentment ran much deeper.

Analysts have called the fuel tax -- that was quickly scrapped from the French government's budget -- a "trigger" to the crisis that soon became a mounting dissatisfaction with an 'out-of-touch' Macron and a demonstration against inequality.

Men and women from struggling towns in northern and western France began pouring into the capital.

READ MORE: Riot Police Use Teargas Against Protesters In Paris

“There are just too many taxes in France,” said Veronique Lestrade, a demonstrator on the outskirts of Paris, who said her family was struggling to make ends meet.

Some media reports have cast light on an 25-point manifesto that circulated last week, garnering support on social media across all political fronts.

It cites a halving of all taxes, new spending on rural areas and suburbs plus a 40 percent increase in the minimum wage and welfare payments.

Meanwhile, Macron's popularity has sunk to a new low.

Yellow vests protesters burn barricades to block streets during a protest on the Champs Elysees. Image: Getty
How Has The President Responded?

As the protests escalated, Macron kept quiet, until he appeared in front of an angry nation in a prerecorded television speech on Monday night, out to prove he was not a "president of the rich".

He delivered the speech from the luxurious Elysee Palace -- a choice that did not go unnoticed among the gilets jaunes.

In it, he announced measures aimed at calming the protesters, including an increase to the minimum wage by AUD $150 each month. A planned tax on pensions under AUD $3,160 would be cancelled.

But he stood by a decision to slash a solidarity tax on wealth (ISD).

Image: AAP
What Now?

The movement has no leader nor fixed structures.

But there are suggestions France could face weeks, and possibly months, of more violence and disruption as the movement spreads -- both on the streets and on social media.

The French economy, too, will suffer.

Similar protests in Belgium have given voice to complaints about the cost of living and demanded the removal of its centre-right coalition government -- six months before a national election is due in May.

Contact the author