Macron scraps fuel tax hike amid fears of more vi­o­lence

Baltimore Sun - - WORLD - By Sylvie Corbet, Sa­muel Petrequin and An­gela Charl­ton

PARIS — French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron scrapped a fuel tax rise Wed­nes­day amid fears of new 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.

Macron de­cided Wed­nes­day to “get rid” of the tax planned for next year, an of­fi­cial in the pres­i­dent’s of­fice told The Asso- ciated 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.

So af­ter

night­fall Wed­nes­day, as par­lia­ment de­bated the 2019 bud­get, Macron’s gov­ern­ment gave in.

“I have no prob­lem with ad­mit­ting that on such or such ques­tion we could have done dif­fer­ently, that if there is such a level of anger it’s be­cause we still have a lot of things to im­prove,” the prime min­is­ter told leg­is­la­tors.

Philippe said “the tax is now aban­doned” in the 2019 bud­get, and the gov­ern­ment is “ready for di­a­logue.” The bud­get can be rene­go­ti­ated through the year, but given the scale of the re­cent protests, Macron is un­likely to re­vive the added fuel tax idea any­time soon.

Three weeks of protests have caused four deaths, in­jured hun­dreds and lit­tered cen­tral Paris with burned cars and shat­tered win­dows.

One ac­tivist said he fears more deaths if Satur­day’s yel­low vest de­mon­stra­tion goes ahead and urged Macron to calm the na­tion.

“If not there will be chaos,” said Christophe Cha­len­con, a 52-year-old black­smith from south­ern France. He said the French pub­lic needs Macron to “ad­mit he made a mis­take, with sim­ple words that touch the guts and heart of the French.”

BOB EDME/AP

A demon­stra­tor wear­ing a yel­low vest read­ing “Macron give us the wealth tax” protests Wed­nes­day at the toll gates on a mo­tor­way in south­west­ern France.

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