France Sus­pends Fuel Tax Rise to Quell Protests

WWD Digital Daily - - News - BY JOELLE DIDERICH

“The time for di­a­logue has come,” said Prime Min­is­ter Édouard Philippe, an­nounc­ing sev­eral mea­sures de­signed to boost pur­chas­ing power.

PARIS — French Prime Min­is­ter Édouard Philippe said Tues­day the gov­ern­ment would sus­pend fuel tax hikes af­ter a third week­end of antigov­ern­ment protests led to scenes of vi­o­lence and ran­sack­ing that of­fi­cials com­pared to the May 1968 stu­dent ri­ots.

“The time for di­a­logue has come,” the French leader said, call­ing for an end to the on­go­ing protests by demon­stra­tors in re­flec­tive safety vests — known as “gilets jaunes” — who have blocked roads and van­dal­ized stores since Nov. 17, caus­ing foot traffic to plum­met dur­ing the cru­cial hol­i­day spend­ing sea­son.

The protests were sparked by the fuel tax and have grown to en­com­pass a range of de­mands over de­clin­ing liv­ing stan­dards, with demon­stra­tors call­ing for the res­ig­na­tion of Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron.

The gov­ern­ment will sus­pend for six months the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the so- called car­bon tax, de­signed to help France switch to greener en­ergy sources, Philippe said. It will hike the min­i­mum wage by 3 per­cent, its big­gest rise in more than two decades, and launch a de­bate into France's tax lev­els, the high­est in Europe, he added.

“These de­ci­sions, with im­me­di­ate ef­fect, ought to bring back calm and seren­ity in the coun­try. They ought to al­low us to launch a real di­a­logue about the var­i­ous con­cerns that have been raised over the last few weeks,” he ex­plained.

Some 136,000 peo­ple na­tion­wide joined the demon­stra­tions on Satur­day, which left 263 peo­ple in­jured, up sharply from 16 the week be­fore, ac­cord­ing to the In­te­rior Min­istry. Po­lice ar­rested 682 peo­ple. Philippe said that while he heard the anger of the demon­stra­tors, the gov­ern­ment would not tol­er­ate more chaos.

“Ev­ery­one in France has the right to protest. Free­dom of ex­pres­sion, free­dom to protest are pre­cious rights and found­ing lib­er­ties of our coun­try. But ev­ery­one in France also has the right to safety, free­dom of move­ment and a nor­mal life. The gov­ern­ment does not ac­cept the vi­o­lent at­tacks per­pe­trated last Satur­day against the po­lice, na­tional mon­u­ments, pub­lic build­ings and stores,” Philippe said.

“Those who dam­aged those venues dam­aged the prop­erty of the French. French peo­ple's taxes will be used to re­pair and com­pen­sate for the dam­age. I want to be clear that we are look­ing for the per­pe­tra­tors of these acts and they will be pun­ished,” he added.

Fi­nance Min­is­ter Bruno Le Maire said mass re­tail­ers have seen a 15 per­cent to 25 per­cent cu­mu­la­tive drop in sales as a re­sult of the demon­stra­tions, and tourism is be­gin­ning to feel the ef­fect of can­cel­la­tions as images of ri­ot­ers are broad­cast around the globe.

Depart­ment stores Ga­leries Lafayette, Print­emps and Le Bon Marché evac­u­ated shop­pers and closed early on Satur­day af­ter vi­o­lent protests spread through­out Paris. Chanel, Dior, Burberry and Givenchy are among the lux­ury brands whose stores have been dam­aged over the last two weeks.

“The im­pact is se­vere and on­go­ing, since we are now look­ing at drops in turnover rang­ing be­tween 15 per­cent and 25 per­cent de­pend­ing on the sec­tor,” Le Maire said af­ter meet­ing with busi­ness rep­re­sen­ta­tives on Mon­day. “Let's not un­der­es­ti­mate the psy­cho­log­i­cal im­pact on French peo­ple of this vi­o­lence,” he added.

The min­is­ter re­ported that rev­enues for spe­cial­ist re­tail­ers have plum­meted by 20 per­cent to 40 per­cent since the protests be­gan on Nov. 17. Restau­rants have seen their turnover fall by 20 per­cent to 50 per­cent, and ho­tel reser­va­tions are down by 15 per­cent to 20 per­cent due to the “demo­cratic cri­sis” grip­ping the na­tion, he said.

Demon­stra­tors run by a burn­ing fire near the Arc de Tri­om­phe dur­ing a protest in Paris.

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