Figureheads emerge among France’s ‘gilets jaunes’ protesters
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The gilets jaunes — the yellow vest — demonstrations that have shaken France since last November began as targeted protests against rising fuel prices but soon developed into a broader anti-establishment movement whose supporters have repeatedly called for President Emmanuel Macron’s resignation.
No overall structure or leadership has emerged among them despite eight consecutive Saturdays of protests — some marked by violence and looting. But a few have become prominent. The best known have used social media effectively to make their views public.
Eric Drouet is a truck driver from the Seine-et-Marne region and one of the self-styled ‘gilets jaunes en colère’ (or ‘angry yellow vests’). He created a Facebook site on November 17 last year calling for a national blockade against rising fuel prices. Applauded by hard-left politician Jean-Luc Mélenchon, Mr Drouet has twice been arrested and is due in court on June 5 accused of carrying a prohibited weapon, in this case a baton. He presents himself as an apolitical spokesperson, often addressing supporters via social media from the cab of his truck.
Priscillia Ludosky is another member of the ‘gilets jaunes en colère’. The 33-year-old website manager also lives in Seine-et-Marne. She launched an online petition for a reduction in fuel prices which collected 1.15m signatures. The government then cancelled the increase in green taxes responsible for pushing up prices. Ms Ludosky’s petition also suggested ways of fighting pollution without increasing fuel prices, and she and Mr Drouet met François de Rugy, the environment minister.
Jacline Mouraud is part of a group called the ‘gilets jaunes libres’ (‘free gilets jaunes’). Aged 51 and from Brittany, she posted a video on October 18 2018, which went viral, in which she denounced the ‘hounding of motorists’. In an interview with Marianne magazine, she described herself as a hypnotherapist and spiritualist. Ms Mouraud was part of a delegation set to meet Edouard Philippe, the French prime minister, but she received death threats from those who opposed negotiations and the meeting never took place. At the start of 2019, she said she planned to form a new political party called Les Emergents which would be “a party of common sense, without labels, with new and constructive ideas for the country”.
Christophe Dettinger, a former French boxing champion, is 37 and comes from the Essonne region. He came to prominence when he was filmed at a gilets jaunes march in January punching and kicking police blocking a bridge in central Paris. He was not wearing a yellow vest and the police identified him from the way he took a professional boxer’s stance as he punched one of the men in riot gear. Mr Dettinger turned himself in on January 7 and is in detention awaiting trial on February 13. A public fund to support him quickly gathered €117,000 in contributions until it was closed by online donation platform Leetchi following criticism from the government and police trade unions.
Benjamin Cauchy is a 38-year-old commercial manager from Toulouse. A former student leader on the right, he is seen as a supporter and ‘activist’ of the rightwing nationalist party Debout la France (Stand up, France). He was willing to enter talks with the French government, but was dissuaded by the hostility of other gilets jaunes. ‘Violence for me is constant failure,’ he said on RMC radio on January 8. ‘A return to civil order in this country is not a bad thing. We call on the gilets jaunes to register all demonstrations at the prefecture, leaving the police force to concentrate on the vandals. To me the boxer Christophe Dettinger is not a gilet jaune.’
Ingrid Levavasseur is a single mother with two children who lives in Normandy and works in the health sector. She was chosen by BFM TV, a French news channel, to provide regular paid reports on her activities as a gilet jaune but she dropped the plan on January 6 after she was criticised online for co-operating with the media. ‘Stop the cynical message — I’ve turned the offer down,’ she said. ‘Work it out among yourselves since you have all the answers.’ Marlène Schiappa, secretary of state for gender equality, condemned the attacks on Ms Levavasseur, saying she had met her in December at her ministry and found her ‘constructive and without hate’.
Maxime Nicolle, known as Fly Rider on social media, rose to prominence among the gilets jaunes and French media after suggesting the government was behind the deadly Islamist terror attack in Strasbourg’s Christmas market last month, claiming it wanted to divert attention from the weekly yellow vest protests. The 31-year-old temporary transport worker comes from Brittany, is active on Facebook and is often seen with Mr Drouet.
Ghislain Coutard, a 36-year-old mechanic from Narbonne, is considered the ‘father of the gilets jaunes’ because he was the first to suggest using the yellow vest. ‘We all have one in the car. Put it on the dashboard,’ he said in a video posted on Facebook on October 24 last year. The video has been viewed more than 5m times and the vest became the symbol of the movement. Mr Coutard told Paris Match last month he did not vote in the presidential elections. ‘In any case, like an idiot, I would have voted for Macron,’ he said.
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