Fears of ma­jor vi­o­lence grow de­spite Macron con­ces­sions

Paris fears new protests and vi­o­lence de­spite Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron’s sur­ren­der over a fuel tax hike that un­leashed weeks of un­rest

Daily Sabah (Turkey) - - International -

FRENCH Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron scrapped a fuel tax rise amid fears of “ma­jor vi­o­lence,” af­ter weeks of na­tion­wide protests and the worst ri­ot­ing in Paris in decades. Pro­test­ers cel­e­brated the vic­tory, but some said Macron's sur­ren­der came too late and is no longer enough to quell the mount­ing anger at the pres­i­dent, whom they con­sider out of touch with the problems of or­di­nary peo­ple.

“We have rea­sons to fear ma­jor vi­o­lence,” a source said Wed­nes­day amid calls for fresh mo­bi­liza­tion of the “yel­low vest” move­ment coun­try­wide this week­end, as re­ported by Agence France-Presse (AFP). The threat of more vi­o­lence poses a se­cu­rity night­mare for the au­thor­i­ties, who make a dis­tinc­tion be­tween peace­ful pro­test­ers and violent groups, an­ar­chists and loot­ers from the de­prived sub­urbs who they say have in­fil­trated the move­ment.

Macron de­cided Wed­nes­day to “get rid” of the tax planned for next year, an of­fi­cial in the pres­i­dent’s of­fice told The As­so­ci­ated Press. Prime Minister Edouard Philippe told law­mak­ers the tax is no longer in­cluded in the 2019 bud­get.

The de­ci­sion has ram­i­fi­ca­tions be­yond France, since the fuel tax rise was part of Macron’s ef­forts to wean France off fos­sil fu­els in or­der to re­duce green­house gases and help slow cli­mate change. Its with­drawal is both a blow to broader ef­forts to fight cli­mate change and a warn­ing to other world lead­ers try­ing to do the same thing.

The yel­low vest protests be­gan Nov. 17 over the gov­ern­ment plan to raise taxes on diesel and gaso­line, but by the time Macron bowed to three weeks of vi­o­lence and aban­doned the new fuel tax, pro­test­ers were de­mand­ing much more. Many work­ers in France are an­gry over the com­bi­na­tion of low wages, high taxes and high un­em­ploy­ment that have left many peo­ple strug­gling fi­nan­cially.

On Tues­day, the gov­ern­ment agreed to sus­pend the fuel tax rise for six months. But in­stead of ap­peas­ing the pro­test­ers, it spurred other groups to join in, hop­ing for con­ces­sions of their own. The protests took on an even big­ger di­men­sion Wed­nes­day with trade unions and farm­ers vow­ing to join the fray.

Po­lice warned of po­ten­tial vi­o­lence dur­ing demon­stra­tions in Paris on Satur­day, with one small se­cu­rity forces union threat­en­ing a strike.

The fuel-tax volte-face was the first ma­jor U-turn of Macron’s 18-month pres­i­dency and points to an ad­min­is­tra­tion scram­bling to re­gain the ini­tia­tive as dis­en­chanted cit­i­zens feel em­bold­ened on the streets.

The un­rest has ex­posed the deepseated re­sent­ment among non-city dwellers that Macron is out-of-touch with the hard-pressed mid­dle class and blue-col­lar la­bor­ers. They see the 40-year-old for­mer in­vest­ment banker as closer to big busi­ness.

Trou­ble is also brew­ing else­where for Macron; col­lege stu­dents are ag­i­tat­ing, farm­ers have long com­plained that re­tail­ers are squeez­ing their mar­gins and are fu­ri­ous over a de­lay to the planned rise in min­i­mum food prices and truck­ers are threat­en­ing to strike from Sun­day.

French po­lice de­tained 32 stu­dents Wed­nes­day who were tak­ing part in protests against gov­ern­ment plans to over­haul the coun­try’s ap­proach to ed­u­ca­tion. Stu­dents in a num­ber of cities have been protest­ing against Macron’s ed­u­ca­tional poli­cies. The ma­jor re­forms by his ad­min­is­tra­tion in­clude changes to the Bac­calau­re­ate Ex­am­i­na­tion, which stu­dents must pass to be el­i­gi­ble to en­ter univer­sity.

A man rides his bi­cy­cle past graf­fiti on the Paris Garnier Opera house in Paris that reads: “Macron is equal to Louis 16,” re­fer­ring to the king of France dur­ing the 1789 French Rev­o­lu­tion, Dec. 2.

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