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'Red Scarves’ and 'Blue Vest' counter movements to protest Yellow Vests

Yellow Vest protesters hold a French flag near a burning barricade during a protest against rising oil prices and living costs, on December 1, 2018, in Paris.

The Yellow Vests have paralysed much of the country with road blockades and street protests in Paris and other cities for 11 consecutive Saturdays. On Sunday the 'Red Scarves' and 'Blue Vest' counter movements will launch a joint demonstration.

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With slogans like “Enough!” and “End the violence”, the Red Scarves, the Blue Vests and the “STOP, that’s enough now”, movements first surfaced at the end of last year to counter the Yellow Vest protests that had upended weekend traffic and resulted in the worst rioting in Paris in decades, costing taxpayers millions of euros.

At first the movements were mainly contained to social media networks, but as the Yellow Vest protests persisted into the new year, these alternative groups have joined forces to stage their first “anti-Yellow Vest” protest in Paris this Sunday – a day after the Yellow Vests' “Act XI” of nationwide demonstrations.

“We denounce the insurrectional climate installed by the Yellow Vests. We also reject the threats and constant verbal abuse [suffered by non-Yellow Vests],” they said in their joint manifesto.

On Saturday, nearly 10,000 people had ticked the participation box on the “#RepublicanMarchForFreedom” Facebook event page, and 27,000 people had said they were interested in going.

?People can’t get to work’

The Red Scarves saw the light of the day in November, and began as a Facebook group set up by John Christophe Werner from the southern French region of Vaucluse. In an interview with regional newspaper Le Dauphiné Libéré, Werner said he had created the group because French “citizens are being penalised every day by the Yellow Vests’ methods”.

“Today, a lot of people are scared to leave their houses, to use the roads, to drive to their jobs.”

On the group’s website, multiple people recount how they’ve been verbally abused for not wearing the same reflective yellow west that the anti-government protesters wear, how they have been forced to sign petitions calling for President Emmanuel Macron’s resignation in order to get through roadblocks on their way to work, and how they have been accused of belonging to the bourgeoisie for not buying into the Yellow Vests demands.

The Blue Vest movement was founded by 36-year-old legal expert Laurent Segnis and cropped up on Twitter in November to protest “the blockades, the violence, the unjustified restrictions on the freedom to come and go as you please, the attacks on freedom of opinion (if you’re not a Yellow Vest, you’re wealthy, or worse)”.

Segnis, who claims he makes less than €1,650 per month and lives in an HLM (French social housing), said he created the group because despite living under the very same conditions that many Yellow Vest supporters do, he couldn’t identify with either their methods or their demands.

?Won’t be held hostage’

The Facebook group “STOP, that’s enough now” was set up by 51-year-old aeronautics engineer Laurent Soulié from the southwestern city of Toulouse in mid-December to allow “the French who’ve stayed quiet for six weeks to finally have their say”.

In an interview with AFP earlier this week, he said that he saw the creation of the group as a necessity because the Yellow Vest protests did not appear to calm down at all despite the concessions made by the government to try to meet some of their demands.

“I have a house that needs a good coat of paint, I've been driving the same car for 12 years, and I go through my accounts at the end of every month to ensure I’ve not got overdrawn,” he said, refuting the “wealth” label some Yellow Vests have attributed to him.

Forty-one-year-old Caroline Garcin, a former nurse from the southern city of Montpellier and who lives on a disability allowance due to deafness, told AFP that she decided to join the Red Scarves after being verbally abused by Yellow Vest supporters at a roundabout in November because she didn’t wear a yellow reflective vest. “I felt totally alone in the world facing this wave of hatred,” she said, adding that after joining the Red Scarves, she found “a France that was enlightened, calm and respectful".

Garcin said that although she understands the Yellow Vests’ “sense of social and fiscal injustice”, she refuses to “be held hostage” by them, saying she finds it unacceptable to support a cause that “calls for a lynching or the killing of a cop”.

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