France’s Macron calls for respect, unity in New Year’s speech

French President Emmanuel Macron has used his traditional New Year’s Eve address to acknowledge the “anger” among anti-government protesters, but warned that hateful speech and actions would not be tolerated.

Speaking from the Elysee Palace on Monday, Macron said he would use that anger as a “lesson” for the new year ahead.

“An anger that came from far away broke out. Anger against injustices, against the course of globalization, sometimes incomprehensible, anger against an administrative system that has become too complex and lacking in benevolence,” Macron said in his speech. “To me, this anger means one thing, whatever its excesses: we didn’t resign ourselves.”

The “gilet jeunes or “yellow vest” protests have paralyzed parts of France since erupting last month, as demonstrators clashed with police, torched cars, erected roadblocks and burned barricades.

The protests, named after the yellow high-visibility jackets French motorists must carry in their vehicles, have transformed from dissent over rising gas prices and eco-taxes into a broader demonstration against Macron, his government, and tensions between the metropolitan elite and rural poor.

Without naming the yellow vest protests directly, Macron railed against extreme and violent parts of the movement who claimed to speak “on behalf of the people” but were actually speaking for a “hateful crowd” to “attack officials, the police, journalists, Jews, foreigners, homosexuals.” He called those elements, “the negation of France.”

Macron said that France “wants to build a better future” but to do that, he said, people must respect each other and remember the lessons from the generations who fought for today’s freedoms.

“We are free in our country only because generations before us fought not to suffer from despotism or any tyranny, and this freedom requires a republican order, he said. “It requires the respect of each and all opinions.”

Under pressure to respond to the protests, Macron pledged in December to increase the minimum wage and scrap new pension taxes. But this move has done little to appease the anger felt by some hard-core protesters.

At the protests’ height, 1,723 people were taken in for questioning and 1,220 were taken into custody over one weekend. On December 15, about 34,000 protesters had turned out across France, including more than 2,000 in Paris, according to the Interior Ministry. The previous week, some 77,000 protesters demonstrated across the country, including 10,000 in Paris.

Ten people have died in connection with the protests, with most deaths occurring in traffic accidents related to blockades in November and December, according to Le Parisien newspaper and CNN reporting.

The number of demonstrators has dwindled over the past couple of weeks, while authorities have ramped up policing to prevent a repeat of earlier violence.

To get things back on track, Macron said France’s “institutions must continue to evolve” and he vowed to “restore vitality to our democracy.”