A founding leader of the yellow vest movement in France has accused president Emmanuel Macron of exploiting the Notre Dame Cathedral fire for political gain.

Ingrid Levavasseur spoke out ahead of another round of planned protests across the country this weekend.

Despite their struggles to make ends meet, some protesters made small donations for the restoration of the iconic building.

French president Emmanuel Macron delivers a speech to Paris Firefighters’ Brigade and security forces who took part in extinguishing the blaze at Notre Dame Cathedral

But they also felt unheard when Mr Macron addressed the nation to speak about the fire, instead of laying out his response to the social crisis that has fuelled their protests since last November.

There was further outrage when, in just a few hours, billionaires pledged hundreds of millions of euros to help restore the damaged cathedral while their demands remain unsatisfied in their longstanding fight with the French government.

Ms Levavasseur said: “You’re there, looking at all these millions accumulating, after spending five months in the streets fighting social and fiscal injustice. It’s breaking my heart.

“What happened at Notre Dame is obviously a deplorable tragedy. But nobody died.

“I’ve heard someone speaking of national mourning. Are they out of their minds?”

It took him (Mr Macron) less than 24 hours to speak about the fire, while he made us wait for three weeks before addressing our issues

The blaze at Notre Dame has sent shock waves through France but Ms Levavasseur believes the image of unbroken national unity that arose in the aftermath of the fire is being politically exploited by Macron.

“It took him less than 24 hours to speak about the fire, while he made us wait for three weeks before addressing our issues,” she said.

Interior minister Christophe Castaner said 60,000 police officers will be mobilised on Saturday across France and demonstrations near Notre Dame will be banned as he expects some protests to turn violent.

Decrying the struggles of low-paid workers and pensioners, and accusing Mr Macron’s government of favouring the rich, yellow vest activists – named after the fluorescent jackets French motorists are required to keep in their cars – have been protesting for 22 consecutive weekends.

Frustrated by the lack of government response, Ms Levavasseur has stopped attending demonstrations in recent weeks but is considering returning to the streets on Saturday because of an even greater sense of being overlooked since the Notre Dame tragedy.

A placard (centre) reads “Hungry People Never Give Up’ during a yellow vest protest in Paris last weekend

It appears she is not the only one feeling this way.

“The yellow vests will show their anger against the billion found in four days for stones, and nothing for the needy,” wrote Pierre Derrien on the Facebook page of a yellow vests group based in the southern city of Montpellier.

France’s richest businessman, Bernard Arnault, and his luxury goods LVMH group pledged €200m for the reconstruction.

Billionaire Francois Pinault and his son, Francois-Henri Pinault, said they were giving €100m from Artemis, the holding company that owns the Christie’s auction house and the main shareholder of luxury fashion houses including Gucci.

“If they can give dozens of millions to rebuild Notre Dame, they should stop telling us there is no money to respond to the social emergency,” CGT trade union leader Philippe Martinez said.

Some have criticised the billionaires’ donations because their pledges make them eligible for huge tax deductions.

The Pinault family has said, however, it will not ask for a tax deduction for its donation to Notre Dame, while Arnault said his family holding company was not eligible for tax breaks because it has already reached the limit for deductions.

Taxes have been one of the most pressing issues of the yellow vest movement, which has lashed out at Mr Macron for favouring the rich by eliminating a wealth tax as part of his economic stimulus plan, while average French workers have seen their living standards decline.

Anti-rich messages have flourished on social media in recent days as yellow vest protesters coordinated their action for the weekend.

Dozens of others exhorted wealthy donors to be more generous with France’s underclass.


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