France halts fuel tax hikes in bid to calm fiery protests

The con­ces­sion was one of sev­eral made by Prime Min­is­ter Edouard Philippe in a rare tele­vised ad­dress, af­ter the coun­try was rocked by in­tense street clashes and van­dal­ism in Paris

Times of Oman - - WORLD -

PARIS(France): The French gov­ern­ment an­nounced on Tues­day that it would sus­pend planned in­creases in fuel taxes for six months in a bid to quell fierce protests that have bal­looned into the deep­est cri­sis of Em­manuel Macron’s pres­i­dency.

The con­ces­sion was one of sev­eral made by Prime Min­is­ter Edouard Philippe in a rare tele­vised ad­dress, af­ter the coun­try 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 so­called “yel­low vest” pro­test­ers.

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

In­creases in reg­u­lated elec­tric­ity and gas prices will also be frozen dur­ing the win­ter, while stricter ve­hi­cle emis­sion con­trols set to take ef­fect from Jan­uary 1 will be sus­pended for six months, he said.

“The French peo­ple who have put on yel­low vests love their coun­try, they want lower taxes and for their work to pay: That’s also what we want,” Philippe said.

Pres­sure has been mount­ing af­ter protests de­gen­er­ated into the worst street clashes in cen­tral Paris in decades, lead­ing to scores of in­juries and ar­rests.

The con­ces­sions, com­ing af­ter an ear­lier 500-mil­lion-euro (570 mil­lion-dol­lar) re­lief pack­age for poorer house­holds, mark the first time Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron has had to give ground in the face of pub­lic op­po­si­tion.

It was a blow for the for­mer in­vest­ment banker who has styled him­self as a de­ter­mined eco­nomic re­former.

Mass street protests have re­peat­edly forced pre­vi­ous French pres­i­dents into U-turns, some­thing that Macron had vowed to avoid in his quest to “trans­form” the French econ­omy and state.

But it was un­clear if the mea­sures would as­suage the anger on French streets.

“The French don’t want crumbs, they want the whole baguette,” Ben­jamin Cauchy, one of the move­ment’s or­gan­is­ers, said ear­lier on Mon­day when asked about the sus­pen­sion of fuel taxes.

Far-right leader Ma­rine Le Pen, a vo­cal sup­porter of the move­ment, said on Twit­ter that pro­test­ers wanted the fuel tax hike can­celled, not just sus­pended.

Re­scind­ing the in­crease was the main de­mand of the de­mon­stra­tors, along­side a higher min­i­mum wage and the re­turn of a wealth tax on high-earn­ers which was abol­ished last year.

Min­i­mum wage

Philippe said on Tues­day that France’s min­i­mum wage was al­ready set to in­crease three per cent from Jan­uary, “one of the big­gest in­creases in the past 25 years.” But the gov­ern­ment is ea­ger to avoid an­other day of run­ning ri­ots and burn­ing cars, with some peo­ple al­ready call­ing for fresh protests Satur­day.

“If there is an­other day of protests, it must be de­clared in ad­vance and must take place calmly,” Philippe said.

The “yel­low vest” move­ment, named af­ter the high-vis­i­bil­ity jack­ets worn by sup­port­ers, emerged on so­cial me­dia in Oc­to­ber af­ter months of swelling anger over ris­ing fuel prices.

It quickly grew into wider protests against ris­ing costs of liv­ing, es­pe­cially among ru­ral and small-town vot­ers who ac­cuse Macron of rep­re­sent­ing a Parisian elite with little un­der­stand­ing of their monthly strug­gle to make ends meet.

Macron has not spo­ken pub­licly about Satur­day’s de­struc­tion in Paris since his re­turn from a G20 sum­mit in Ar­gentina on Sun­day.

But he post­poned a planned visit to Bel­grade due to the “prob­lems” at home, his Ser­bian coun­ter­part Pres­i­dent Alek­san­dar Vu­cic an­nounced on Mon­day.

A 40-year-old cen­trist, Macron was elected in May 2017 on a probusi­ness plat­form that in­cluded mea­sures to in­cite com­pa­nies to invest to cre­ate jobs. Im­me­di­ately af­ter com­ing to power, he pushed through tax cuts for en­trepreneurs and high-earn­ers.

Those mea­sures stirred anger among the “yel­low vests” who have blocked high­ways and fuel de­pots around the coun­try over the past two weeks.

The protests have spread to around a hun­dred schools na­tion­wide, which were still par­tially or to­tally blocked Tues­day by teenagers voic­ing frus­tra­tion over univer­sity en­trance re­forms.

Four peo­ple have been killed dur­ing the protests, in­clud­ing an 80-year-old woman who died in hos­pi­tal on Sun­day af­ter be­ing hit by a tear gas can­is­ter in Mar­seille.

The un­rest de­gen­er­ated into ar­son and loot­ing around the Champ­sEl­y­sees av­enue and other tourist at­trac­tions on Satur­day, lead­ing to shock­ing images that were broad­cast round the world.

Full story @ time­so­fo­

- AFP file photo

PROTEST: De­mon­stra­tors gather near a fire burn­ing dur­ing a protest of Yel­low vests (Gilets jaunes) against ris­ing oil prices and liv­ing costs, near the Arc de Tri­om­phe in Paris.

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