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
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.