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French troops deployed amid protests on Reunion island

November 22, 2018
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France's President Emmanuel Macron delivers a speech during a meeting with French mayors at the Elysee Palace, in Paris Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2018. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus, Pool)

PARIS (AP) — France is deploying soldiers to calm violence on the Indian Ocean island of Reunion after protests over fuel tax hikes degenerated into looting and rioting.

Schools on the island are closed for a third day Thursday because protesters’ roadblocks prevent teachers, children and food supplies from reaching them, according to a statement from the regional administration.

Gas price protests have simmered in France and its overseas territories since Saturday. On Reunion, a verdant island cherished by tourists, the protests unleashed broader anger over poverty, which is much more widespread than on the French mainland.

French President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday night defended government efforts to boost the economy on Reunion but also ordered troops to the area, calling the violence “unacceptable.” The French military could not provide details on the deployments.

The prefecture said 123 people have been arrested on Reunion since Saturday and some 30 police officers injured.

Nationwide, the gas price protests have left two people dead and hundreds injured. They are led by drivers who dub themselves the “yellow jackets” for the neon vests that all drivers are required to carry in their cars in case of car trouble.

A new wave of protests is planned for sites around the country Saturday. After tensions around an unauthorized protest attempt in Paris last week, the Interior Ministry agreed to allow a gathering on the Champ de Mars, the field stretching out beneath the Eiffel Tower.

Police are under orders to remove drivers blocking sites critical to the French economy such as oil depots and train stations.

The drivers are protesting taxes that the government is hiking as part of efforts to wean France off fossil fuels. Gasoline currently costs about 1.64 euros a liter in Paris ($7.06 a gallon), slightly more than diesel.

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