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  • Protesters wearing yellow vests gather in front of the Opera House as part of the

    Protesters wearing yellow vests gather in front of the Opera House as part of the "yellow vests" movement in Paris | Photo: Reuters

Published 16 December 2018

The turn out on Saturday was about half the number of the previous weekend, which prompted the government to wrongfully claim that the momentum was waning.

A month of "yellow vest" protests have taken a further toll on the popularity of French President Emmanuel Macron, a new poll showed Sunday, with analysts saying he will be forced to change his style of governing.

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Around 66,000 protesters turned out again on Saturday on the fifth round of anti-government demonstrations, which sprung up over diesel taxes last month.

The figure was about half the number of the previous weekend, which prompted the government to wrongfully claim that the momentum was waning and the most acute political crisis of Macron's 19-month presidency was coming to an end.

"It is calming down, but what remains of it all is a strong feeling of hatred towards Macron," said veteran sociologist Herve Le Bras from the School of Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences (EHESS).

A major poll by the Ifop group published in Journal du Dimanche newspaper showed Macron's approval had slipped another two points in the last month, to 23 percent. The proportion of people who declared themselves "very dissatisfied" by his leadership jumped by six points to 45 percent.

Many of the protesters have targeted Macron personally, calling on him to resign or targeting his background as an investment banker and alleged elitism. 

A different poll by Ipsos on Wednesday last week showed that a mere 20 percent of respondents were happy with his presidency, a fall of six points to its lowest ever level.

Le Bras said the protests had underlined the depth of dislike for Macron's personality and style of governing, which critics see as arrogant and too distant. "Even by being more humble, it's going to be complicated," he added.

Until last week, a clear majority of French people had backed the protests, which sprung up initially over high taxes before snowballing into a wider opposition front against Macron.   

In a bid to end the standoff, he announced a package of measures for low-income workers on Monday in a televised address, estimated by economists to cost up to US$17 billion.   

The 40-year-old also acknowledged widespread animosity towards him and came close to apologizing for a series of patronizing comments seen as dismissive of the poor or jobless. 

Two polls published last Tuesday — in the wake of Macron's concessions — suggested that half of the country now wanted the protests to continue.   

"It's a movement that has succeeded in forcing back what looked like a strong government," Jerome Sainte-Marie, a public opinion expert at the Pollingvox group, told AFP.   

"People have confidence in themselves now, so things won't return to how they were on November 15" before the protests started, he said. "The context in which Emmanuel Macron holds power has changed," he added.

The former investment banker had until now styled himself as a determined pro-business reformer who would not yield to pressure from protests like his predecessors.

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