Another “wind of anger” is blowing across France, conservative heavyweight Xavier Bertrand, the president of the Hauts-de-France region, warned on Wednesday, as student-led anti-poverty protests took a violent turn. M Bertrand told Europe 1 radio: “I feel an angry wind blowing and that is not a good thing for the country. I was worried – like everyone else – last year because I could see just how easily the country could be brought to its knees.”
Referring to the violent anti-government “yellow vest” protests that rattled France for months, he added: “I don’t want to repeat that experience”.
M Bertrand also warned President Emmanuel Macron’s government against condoning protest violence.
He said: “We cannot give the impression that violence commands attention and respect… Remember what happened with the yellow vests.
“If you give people the impression you don’t understand the reasons for their anger, radicals will take over and make everyone else think that violence is a means to an end. We can’t let that happen.”
M Bertrand, however, admitted that the discontent had been simmering for years – long before M Macron came to power.
He said: “This anger didn’t appear out of the blue 30 months ago – it’s been simmering for much longer than that.
“But if [today’s government] doesn’t understand that it must provide concrete answers to this anger and give people a little bit of hope, our entire system could collapse.”
The French government on Wednesday scrambled to defuse the anger caused by the student who set himself on fire to protest the hardships he faced.
The 22-year-old suffered burns on 90 percent of his body after the incident outside a university building in the southeastern town of Lyon last Friday.
The youth, who had recently lost his student grant and whose identity remains unknown, is in a critical condition in hospital.
At a cabinet meeting on Wednesday the French President expressed his “empathy and compassion” after the incident, his spokeswoman Sibeth Ndiaye said.