France sus­pends tax but protests con­tinue un­abated

Shanghai Daily - - TOP NEWS - (AP)

THE French gov­ern­ment’s de­ci­sion to sus­pend fuel tax and util­ity hikes yes­ter­day did lit­tle to ap­pease pro­test­ers, who called the move a “first step” and vowed to fight on af­ter large-scale ri­ot­ing in Paris last week­end.

In a ma­jor U-turn for the gov­ern­ment, Prime Min­is­ter Edouard Philippe an­nounced in a live tele­vised ad­dress that the planned in­creases, which were set to be in­tro­duced in Jan­uary, would be post­poned un­til sum­mer.

The backpedal­ing by French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron’s gov­ern­ment ap­peared de­signed to calm the na­tion, com­ing three days af­ter the worst un­rest on the streets of Paris in decades.

“No tax is worth putting the na­tion’s unity in dan­ger,” Philippe said, just three weeks af­ter in­sist­ing that the gov­ern­ment wouldn’t change course in its de­ter­mi­na­tion to wean French con­sumers off pol­lut­ing fos­sil fu­els.

But demon­stra­tions con­tin­ued around the coun­try yes­ter­day.

Pro­test­ers wear­ing their sig­na­ture flu­o­res­cent yel­low vests kept block­ing sev­eral fuel de­pots and, on a high­way near the south­ern city of Aubagne, pro­test­ers took over a toll booth to let ve­hi­cles pass for free. They put up a sign by the side of the road read­ing “Macron dic­ta­tor.”

“It’s a first step, but we will not set­tle for a crumb,” said Ben­jamin Cauchy, a protest leader.

In the nearby port city of Mar­seille, stu­dents clashed with po­lice out­side a high school. Stu­dent protests blocked or oth­er­wise dis­rupted about 100 high schools around the coun­try yes­ter­day, ac­cord­ing to the French Ed­u­ca­tion Min­istry.

Many of the demon­stra­tions were over a new uni­ver­sity ap­pli­ca­tion sys­tem.

More protests were ex­pected this week­end in Paris.

Last week­end, more than 130 peo­ple were in­jured and 412 ar­rested in the French cap­i­tal. Shops were looted and cars torched in plush neigh­bor­hoods around the famed Champs-El­y­sees Av­enue.

The Arc de Tri­om­phe, which is home to the Tomb of the Un­known Sol­dier and was vis­ited by world lead­ers last month to mark the cen­te­nary of the end of World War I, was sprayed with graf­fiti and van­dal­ized.

“This vi­o­lence must end,” Philippe said.

Philippe held cri­sis talks with rep­re­sen­ta­tives of ma­jor po­lit­i­cal par­ties on Mon­day, and met with Macron, who can­celed a two-day trip to Ser­bia amid the most se­ri­ous chal­lenge to his pres­i­dency since his elec­tion in May 2017.

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