‘I felt like I was in a warzone’ - Suffolk student witnesses terrifying French riots
Student ESTELLE DRAGAN, from Chelmondiston near Ipswich, has witnessed France’s “yellow vest” riots while studying for a year abroad in Toulouse. Here, she writes about her experience of witnessing the disturbances first-hand.
When I was told that going on a year abroad in Toulouse was a perfect way to become fully immersed in French culture, I thought this meant picking up my daily baguette from the local bakery and indulging in France’s finest cheeses and wines.
Little did I know that I would be witnessing a political landmark in French history at first hand.
For the past few weeks, I have been living in a country that has quite literally been turned upside down by a wave of French protesters demonstrating against fuel tax rises, high living costs and educational reforms.
Unfortunately, La Ville Rose has succumbed to la ville en tear gas, fire and violence.
I was first exposed to the protests two weeks ago when I was denied entry to a restaurant after fires broke out on the streets.
I had to walk home with a scarf around my nose due to the roaming tear gas.
As the week went on, public transport became disrupted which meant that I was rarely able to get to my university, despite having upcoming exams.
This all felt relatively under control and safe until last Tuesday’s shocking scenes. I came out onto my balcony to find swarms of students gathered outside my flat. They were throwing roadwork railings and bins into a pile and setting them on fire.
Riot police were lined up in a row, throwing tear gas towards them to prevent further disruption. The flames got out of control and the fire brigade took a good half hour to arrive at the scene.
The tear gas was overwhelmingly abundant and huge crowds of students ran away screaming. This was completely unexpected and extremely shocking to witness considering I live in a relatively quiet and secluded area of Toulouse.
On Saturday evening I returned to Toulouse after having been away for the night to find my neighbourhood completely destroyed.
Banks, shops and estate agents were smashed up and the streets were completely consumed by chaos. With doors hanging off buildings and glass dispersed everywhere, I felt like I was in a warzone.
Despite the French president responding to the violence by promising a minimum wage rise and tax concessions, the chaos continues.
This experience has been fascinatingly terrifying.