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Macron Confronts Growing Unrest

French authorities have scrambled to respond to mass strikes and protests that have roiled the country for weeks.

By , a reporter at Foreign Policy.
Protesters burn a flare during a demonstration in Paris.
Protesters burn a flare during a demonstration in Paris.
Protesters burn a flare during a demonstration in Paris, on Oct. 18, after trade unions called for a nationwide strike for higher salaries. ALAIN JOCARD/AFP via Getty Images

Welcome to today’s Morning Brief, where we’re looking at France’s unrest, British Prime Minister Liz Truss’s political implosion, and Russia’s declaration of martial law in four Ukrainian regions. 

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Mass Strikes Sweep France

Welcome to today’s Morning Brief, where we’re looking at France’s unrest, British Prime Minister Liz Truss’s political implosion, and Russia’s declaration of martial law in four Ukrainian regions. 

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.


Mass Strikes Sweep France

French authorities have scrambled to respond to mass strikes and protests that have roiled the country for weeks, sparking acute fuel shortages and travel disruptions

Although the strikes first began among oil refinery workers, they have also rippled into the country’s nursing, nuclear power, and transit sectors, among others, in recent days. From teachers to railway staff, more than 100,000 people marched throughout the country on Tuesday to demand higher pay.

The impact has been felt across France, which is now grappling with severe gas shortages exacerbated by the oil refinery workers’ strikes. Nearly 30 percent of French gas stations’ fuel supplies are now dried up while Tuesday’s strikes also slashed train traffic.

The sweeping scale of the unrest underscores the public’s frustration with soaring inflation and the government’s response—and also poses a major challenge to French President Emmanuel Macron. As long queues formed at gas stations, he was forced to order an emergency meeting this week concerning the ongoing strikes.

His opponents, meanwhile, have capitalized on the unrest. On Sunday, tens of thousands of people participated in protests that a group of Macron’s left-wing rivals had organized prior to the strikes; they focused on France’s rising cost of living.

“You can see that this movement is starting to spread,” Mathilde Panot, the parliamentary head of the France Unbowed party, told Franceinfo radio.

France’s ongoing unrest is part of a wider pattern of public frustration that has plagued Europe as it struggles to cope with a grave energy crisis that has led to skyrocketing energy bills. In recent weeks, protests and strikes have also embroiled Germany, Britain, the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Belgium. 

As anger boiled over, protesters and authorities tussled at Tuesday’s protests in Paris, and 11 people were detained. As of Wednesday, some oil refineries’ strikes have ceased while others have continued. 


What We’re Following Today

Britain’s political turmoil. British Prime Minister Liz Trusss political career is hanging by a thread after she was grilled in Parliament on Wednesday—prompting her to declare, “I’m a fighter and not a quitter.” Her statement was followed by British Home Secretary Suella Bravermans resignation—allegedly over improper personal email use.

Braverman—a favorite of the Conservative Partys right wing—used the opportunity to fire a broadside at Truss, who has moved to the center as the governments economic agenda has faltered. “I have concerns about the direction of this government,” Braverman wrote in her resignation letter. “Not only have we broken key pledges that were promised to our voters, but I have serious concerns about this Government’s commitment to honoring manifesto commitments.”

Russia imposes martial law. Russian President Vladimir Putin has declared martial law in the four Ukrainian territories that he has illegally annexed. The announcement enables officials to unroll a slew of new rules while highlighting the Russian leader’s own military challenges. “In the current situation, I consider it necessary to give additional powers to the leaders of all Russian regions,” he said


Keep an Eye On 

Somalia’s catastrophic drought. Thousands of Somali children are in danger of dying “on a scale not seen in half a century” as Somalia faces its most acute drought in four decades, according to UNICEF. Since August, 44,000 children in Somalia have entered hospitals for severe acute malnutrition, which amounts to a child admitted every minute, UNICEF said. 

Myanmar prison explosion. At least 8 people were killed after two explosives detonated at a Myanmar prison known for housing political prisoners on Wednesday. The bomb attack killed three of the prison’s workers and five visitors while 18 others were wounded. The Special Task Agency of Burma, an anti-government organization, has reportedly claimed responsibility for the bombing. 


Wednesday’s Most Read

Ukraine Is the World’s Foreign-Policy Rorschach Test by Stephen M. Walt

Why Putin Is Escalating Aerial Bombings in Ukraine by Ravi Agrawal

The Thaw on Russia’s Periphery Has Already Started by Daniel B. Baer


Odds and Ends 

Truss may say she is “a fighter and not a quitter,” but can she fight for long enough to outlast an unrefrigerated head of lettuce? One British tabloid, the Daily Star, has put that question to the test with a livestream of the two competitors battling for victory. To the left is a framed photo of Truss; to the right is a head of lettuce complete with googly eyes, a smile, a blonde wig, blue shoes, and glasses. 

This lettuce has currently been out for six full days and is beginning its seventh; the vegetable typically starts wilting between seven and 10 days—albeit when refrigerated, according to the New York Times. On Wednesday night, the lettuce was wearing an eye mask to help it sleep.

Correction, Oct. 20, 2022: A previous version misstated the total number of people injured in the Burmese bomb attack.

Christina Lu is a reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @christinafei

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