France braces for trou­ble, Macron to ad­dress ‘yel­low vest’ anger

Iran Daily - - International -

France hun­kered down for an­other wave of po­ten­tially vi­o­lent protests to­day as un­der-fire Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron planned to ad­dress the na­tion next week over pub­lic anger at the cost of liv­ing, se­nior al­lies said. Much of Paris will be in lock­down and tens of thou­sands of po­lice de­ployed across the na­tion to con­tain what pro­test­ers are billing as ‘Act IV’ to the ‘yel­low vest’ re­bel­lion that has seen the worst un­rest in the cap­i­tal since 1968 stu­dent ri­ots, Reuters re­ported.

Nav­i­gat­ing his big­gest cri­sis since be­ing elected, Macron has left it largely to his prime min­is­ter, Edouard Philippe, to deal in pub­lic with the tur­moil and of­fer con­ces­sions.

But the 40-year-old is un­der mount­ing pres­sure to speak more fully as his ad­min­is­tra­tion tries to re­gain the ini­tia­tive fol­low­ing three weeks of un­rest in the G7 na­tion.

“The Pres­i­dent will speak early next week. I think this is what the French peo­ple want, they want an­swers,” Trans­port Min­is­ter Elis­a­beth Borne told Sud Ra­dio on Fri­day.

“The Pres­i­dent will send a mes­sage to the French that he is lis­ten­ing to their anger (...) and that new an­swers have ob­vi­ously to be found.”

Pro­test­ers want Macron to go fur­ther on eas­ing the bud­gets of hard-pressed house­holds: an in­crease to the min­i­mum wage is one de­mand.

But the pres­i­dent, mind­ful of the coun­try’s deficit and not want­ing to flout EU rules, will have lit­tle wrig­gle room for more con­ces­sions.

Scrap­ping next year’s hikes to fuel taxes, the first ma­jor U-turn of his pres­i­dency, has al­ready cost the Trea­sury 4 bil­lion eu­ros ($4.5 bil­lion).

The Eiffel Tower, opera house, and Lou­vre are among dozens of mu­se­ums and tourist sites that will close to­day.

Au­thor­i­ties have also or­dered shut scores of lux­ury bou­tiques, restau­rants and pri­vate busi­nesses on the Champs El­y­sees Av­enue and around the pres­i­den­tial palace.

The trou­ble is jeop­ar­diz­ing a timid eco­nomic re­cov­ery in France.

Small re­tail­ers saw rev­enue fall 20-40 per­cent last Satur­day, and ho­tel reser­va­tions are down 15-25 per­cent.

The protests, named af­ter the high vis­i­bil­ity vests French mo­torists carry in their cars, erupted in Novem­ber due to the im­pact on fam­ily bud­gets of al­ready raised fuel taxes.

Rem­i­nis­cent of Spain’s anti-aus­ter­ity “Indig­na­dos” move­ment in 2011, the French protests swiftly grew into a broad re­bel­lion against the gov­ern­ment, but without for­mal lead­ers.

Their di­verse de­mands in­clude lower taxes, higher salaries, cheaper en­ergy, bet­ter re­tire­ment pro­vi­sions and even Macron’s res­ig­na­tion.

Macron’s gov­ern­ment has this week of­fered a rush of sweet­en­ers to soothe pub­lic anger, be­gin­ning with Philippe’s climb-down on fuel taxes.

Yet all signs are that the gov­ern­ment has failed to quell the re­volt.

Some 89,000 po­lice­men will be on duty to stop a re­peat of last Satur­day’s may­hem. About 8,000 of them are to be de­ployed in Paris where ri­ot­ers last week­end torched cars, looted shops and de­faced the Arc de Tri­om­phe with an­ti­macron graf­fiti.

An­other week­end of vi­o­lence may raise doubts over the dura­bil­ity of Macron’s prime min­is­ter, though aides to Macron and Philippe say there is no dis­cord be­tween them.

BENOIT TESSIER/REUTERS A trash bin burns as youths and high school stu­dents at­tend a demon­stra­tion to protest against the French gov­ern­ment’s re­form plan, in Paris, France, on De­cem­ber 7, 2018.

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