Macron Re­treats on Fuel Tax Hikes


PARIS (Dis­patches) - The French gov­ern­ment has backed down on planned fuel tax hikes in a bid to draw the heat out of fierce protests that have es­ca­lated into the deep­est cri­sis of Em­manuel Macron’s pres­i­dency.

The con­ces­sions, com­ing after an ear­lier 500-mil­lion-euro ($570 mil­lion) re­lief pack­age for poorer house­holds, mark the first time 40-year-old Macron has given ground in the face of pub­lic op­po­si­tion.

Prime Min­is­ter Edouard Philippe an­nounced Tues­day roll­backs on fuel taxes and elec­tric­ity price in­creases in a rare tele­vised ad­dress after France was rocked by in­tense street clashes and van­dal­ism in Paris over the week­end.

“This anger, you would have to be deaf and blind not to see it, nor hear it,” Philippe said after more than a fort­night of demon­stra­tions by so-called “yel­low vest” protesters.

“No tax mer­its putting the unity of the na­tion in dan­ger,” he said.

Planned tax in­creases on petrol and diesel on Jan­uary 1 will be sus­pended for six months, while hikes in reg­u­lated elec­tric­ity and gas prices will be frozen dur­ing the win­ter.

Pres­sure has been mount­ing on the gov­ern­ment after protests de­gen­er­ated into the worst street clashes in cen­tral Paris for decades.

Across France, four peo­ple have been killed in ac­ci­dents linked to the demon­stra­tions and road block­ades, and hun­dreds in­jured. For weeks Macron held his ground on the fuel taxes, which are meant to fi­nance anti-pol­lu­tion poli­cies but crit­ics say un­fairly weigh on driv­ers in ru­ral and small-town France.

Re­scind­ing the Jan­uary in­crease -- three euro cents for un­leaded and six cents for diesel -- was a core de­mand of the de­mon­stra­tors, along­side a higher min­i­mum wage and the re­turn of a wealth tax on high earn­ers that Macron abol­ished.

Two groups blockad­ing petrol de­pots in Brit­tany said they would stand down fol­low­ing the an­nounce­ment of the mea­sures, which will cost pub­lic cof­fers some two bil­lion eu­ros ($2.3 bil­lion).

Yet many oth­ers said they had no in­ten­tion of stop­ping the demon­stra­tions.

“They hope we’ll now go home but we’re not go­ing to move,” said Lionel Ram­beaux, a 41-year-old welder man­ning a fuel de­pot block­ade out­side Le Mans in western France.

“We want Macron and his en­tire gov­ern­ment to re­sign.”

U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump said Tues­day that Macron’s re­treat vin­di­cated his re­jec­tion of the 2015 Paris Agree­ment on com­bat­ing cli­mate change.

“I am glad that my friend @Em­manuelMacron and the pro­tes­tors in Paris have agreed with the con­clu­sion I reached two years ago,” Trump tweeted.

“The Paris Agree­ment is fa­tally flawed be­cause it raises the price of en­ergy for re­spon­si­ble coun­tries while white­wash­ing some of the worst pol­ the world.”

Trump also retweeted a false claim from Amer­i­can con­ser­va­tive stu­dent ac­tivist Char­lie Kirk that said: “’We want Trump’ be­ing chanted through the streets of Paris.”

The French gov­ern­ment is hop­ing to stave off an­other day of run­ning ri­ots and burn­ing cars like on Satur­day, when more than 400 peo­ple were ar­rested in the cap­i­tal.

In­te­rior Min­is­ter Christophe Cas­taner said ex­tra po­lice would be de­ployed next Satur­day on top of the 65,000 out in force last week­end, urg­ing “rea­son­able” mem­bers of the move­ment to stay at home.

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