Relations between Paris and the Maduro government soured after France recognised Venezuela’s opposition leader Juan Guaido as the country’s interim leader in early 2019. Venezuela’s Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza said in a Twitter post: “After 15 months of protests, the French government remains incapable of providing responses to protesters’ demands”, before expressing “solidarity” with the country’s anti-government militants.
Instead of “engaging in social dialogue,” the French government has responded to the wave of protests by using “severe and excessive repression” against citizens, Mr Arreaza added.
Relations between France and President Nicolas Maduro’s government soured after M Macron recognised opposition leader Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s interim leader in February 2019.
France argued that Sr Maduro’s re-election was invalidated by fraud and a ban on most opponents.
But the hardline leftist has managed to keep a firm grip on power.
M Macron’s critics, for their part, have regularly denounced heavy-handed policing tactics during the weekly anti-government “yellow vest” protests, which were often marred by violent clashes between demonstrators and police.
The crisis erupted in November 2018 over a planned fuel tax hike but rapidly snowballed into a wider rebellion against M Macron’s tough economic policies and perceived arrogance.
The fierce violence that flared during the earlier protests shocked many in France and made headlines worldwide, as rioters ran amok smashing shopfronts, torching cars and looting businesses while facing off against police firing tear gas, stun grenades, and water cannons.
Protesters have accused police of using excessive force to suppress the movement, in particular by shooting rubber bullets which they say have caused more than 20 people to lose an eye.
Activists say that in addition to those blinded, five people have lost a hand as a result of police stun grenades while one lost a testicle, and dozens sustained other injuries.
According to an official count, about 2,500 protesters and 1,800 police officers have been injured in the protests.
The Macron government insists it has “no regrets” over its handling of protest violence.
“We have no regrets over the way that we have handled public order and public safety,” Junior Interior Minister Laurent Nunez said in June.
“It is not because a hand has been blown off, because an eye has been blinded, that the violence is illegal. I’m not apologising, I’m leaving it to the justice system of my country,” he continued.
Although the Saturday protests have all but fizzled out, the government is now dealing with crippling nationwide strikes and protests against its planned pension reform.
M Macron wants to streamline France’s convoluted pension system by merging the country’s 42 separate retirement schemes into a single, points-based system.
The young centrist says the myriad special benefits handed out to different types of workers in the existing system are too costly and deter mobility within the job market.
But the hard-left unions behind the strike action argue the reform amounts to an attack on hard-earned benefits that help compensate for salaries below those in the private sector and will ruin public services.
They are demanding the reform be scrapped altogether.