Yellow Vest protesters call for run on French banks

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Yellow Vest protesters have urged supporters to withdraw their money from French banks en masse on Friday in a deliberate attempt to disrupt “the system”. Yet despite the threat, financial institutions appear unconcerned.

Protesters called for the first wave of cash withdrawals to start at 7pm (local time) on Friday, ahead of nationwide demonstrations planned on Saturday.

“We’re going to frighten the state with legal means, without resorting to violence. We know that it isn’t the government that’s in charge, but the banks. If the banks are weakened, the state is also weakened,” a protester identified as Tahz San said in a video posted on YouTube on January 7.

The goal is to maintain pressure on the government to heed Yellow Vest protesters’ demands – in particular the right to propose and vote on new laws – by hitting them where it hurts: the economy. If every customer withdraws all the cash they have deposited with even a solvent bank at the same time, no financial institution has the sufficient funds to pay out to their clients. Yellow Vest protesters hope that if they can cripple at least one bank, it will have a knock-on effect.

“There are a lot of people who are prepared to… withdraw their money from banks,” Maxime Nicolle, a prominent member of the movement, said in a video posted on Facebook also on January 7. “Because you’re making money with our cash, and we’re fed up.”

Bank run ‘difficult, if not impossible’

Yet French banks remain unfazed by the proposal, as the amount necessary to have a negative impact exceeds the daily limits many banks allow clients to withdraw from ATMs.

“There is very little chance it will work,” FRANCE 24’s business editor Christophe Dansette explained. “The amount of money French people have deposited in banks is estimated at €1.5 trillion, according to the Bank of France. Of this amount, €390 billion is currently (available). Every French person would therefore have to withdraw €5,800. This is very difficult, if not impossible, considering that cash withdrawals from ATMs are limited.”

Dansette said that none of the banks he has spoken to have taken any steps to protect their institutions from the plan.

“There has never been a deliberate run on a bank [in France],” he added.

The idea to organise a bank run gained support among the Yellow Vest movement in recent weeks as they sought new ways to maintain public, political and press attention.

The movement – which began last year in response to a direct tax on diesel fuel – appeared to lose some of its momentum after President Emmanuel Macron announced a number of concessions in December.

Watch Macron’s address on the Yellow Vest protests

Demonstrations last weekend drew an estimated 50,000 people nationwide, according to the Interior Ministry.

However, Paris police chief Michel Delpuech said on Friday that he anticipates an even greater turnout this Saturday – the ninth consecutive weekend of protests – and that 80,000 officers will be deployed across the country.

“We think the turnout will be bigger than last Saturday for one thing, and that there could be some more radical and violent elements,” Delpuech told French television station CNews.

Since the Yellow Vest protests first began, banks have been symbolically targeted. The attacks have prompted at least one union representing the banking sector to issue a statement in December calling on authorities to protect bank employees.

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