'Yellow vests' denounce Macron speech as 'charade'

Le Boulou (France) (AFP) - Groups of "yellow vest" protesters across France responded scathingly to the "crumbs" offered by President Emmanuel Macron in a speech intended to defuse their revolt, but others acknowledged his efforts.

"Nonsense," "a charade", "a bluff" and "a drop in the ocean," were among the immediate reactions that greeted the head of state's televised speech Monday evening announcing an increase in the minimum wage and a range of other financial measures.

At a roundabout in the southern town of Le Boulou, some 150 "yellow vests" gathered around a loudspeaker listened carefully to the president's words before starting to shout in chorus.

"He is trying to do a pirouette to land back on his feet but we can see that he isn't sincere, that it's all smoke and mirrors," said Jean-Marc, a car mechanic.

"It's just window dressing, for the media, some trivial measures, it almost seems like a provocation," said Thierry, 55, a bicycle mechanic who donned the yellow vest a fortnight ago.

"All this is cinema, it doesn't tackle the problems of substance," he told AFP before taking part in blocking the Boulou turnpike on the French-Spanish border.

"We're really wound up, we're going back to battle," he said.

Less than an hour after the presidential address, the A9 toll booth from Spain was completely paralysed, an AFP photographer said.

"Maybe if Macron had made this speech three weeks ago, it would have calmed the movement, but now it's too late," said Gaetan, 34, one of the "Rennes Lapins Jaunes" (Yellow Rabbits of Rennes). "For us, this speech is nonsense."

- 'A charade' -

In the northwest, at a roundabout at the end of the A28 in Montabon, near Le Mans, "yellow vests" gathered under a heated tent to watch the president on TV, sharing a picnic.

"Too bad, blew it again!" exclaimed Etienne. "Santa Claus has nothing in his sack," laughed Hubert.

Over in eastern France, at the Cafe de la Paix in Commercy, about 15 "yellow vests" watched Macron's speech with a glass of Picon and a basket of fries, interrupting the presidential address with ironic sneers.

"Sir feels bad," Elisabeth, a 66-year-old retiree, said mockingly as the president acknowledged that he had "hurt some".

"It was about time," added Damien, in his thirties. "Liar," a woman shouted.

"He is being held hostage so he drops some crumbs," said Jonathan, a 35-year-old official.

In the southern commune of Realmont, "gilets jaunes" from all four corners of the department of Tarn gathered at the roundabout to heave a sigh and release nervous laughter.

"The people asked him to resign and he puts plasters on third-degree burns (...) this is total rubbish," said Pierrot, an RSA artist in Albi.

For Luc, a pizza chef in Marseille, "it's a charade. He announces bonuses to be paid by employers but how will they do it? They don't have more money."

- 'Some good ideas' -

Some "yellow vests" however saw "an awareness" of their problems in the presidential speech.

"The increase of 100 euros, it's really not bad," said Erwan, a spokesman in Rennes.

Commenting on the extra measures announced for retirees who earn less than 2,000 euros, he said it would "give them a little more", adding "the end of year bonus too, it's very good."

"He even talked about the big companies that don't pay their taxes in France, we hope that he will move on that too".

"There are some good ideas, it's a mea culpa which arrives too late but we will not spit on it," said Claude Rambour, a "yellow vest" member of the "Gauls of Calais".

But "he should have gone further," said the 42-year-old who fears that the speech wants to "divide the yellow vests".

"We will take the time to think, to interpret, to talk about it between us," said Laure, a jobless mother of Gironde, who was however "not convinced".