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France’s Macron announces national consultation after ‘yellow vest’ protests

Piroschka van de Wouw, Reuters | French President Emmanuel Macron attends a news conference in Brussels, Belgium, on November 25, 2018.

Faced with violent anti-government protests, French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday said he would not back down on controversial fuel tax hikes as he announced a blueprint for France's transition to cleaner energy.

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The French president's energy roadmap comes as he is facing fractious "yellow vest" protests by citizens angry over fuel tax increases designed to finance green initiatives.

Macron acknowledged widespread anger expressed by protesters over the last 10 days, but said he would not back down on environmentally-friendly policies.

"What I've taken from these last few days is that we shouldn't change course because it is the right one and necessary," he said, adding: "The longer we wait, the worse the effects of climate change will be."

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In an hour-long speech, Macron repeated several times that he had understood the anger expressed by hundreds of thousands of people who have taken to the streets in high-visibility yellow jackets.

The 40-year-old centrist said he made a difference between "legitimate demonstrators" and those who wanted to sow chaos, noting that some of the protests had resulted in "unacceptable violence".

He offered minor concessions, saying he would propose a mechanism to adjust tax hikes when they occurred at the same time as an increase in oil prices internationally – as they have this year.

And he called for a three-month national consultation to draw up a roadmap for accelerating the country's transition away from fossil fuels – which he insisted remained his overall objective.

Nuclear target put off

On the sensitive subject of nuclear power, which accounts for almost three-quarters of France’s electricity output, Macron said the country would move more slowly than previously promised to reduce its reliance on nuclear energy.

He said France would shut down 14 of its 58 nuclear reactors by 2035, starting with the two reactors at the Fessenheim plant, the country’s oldest, which will be stopped by the summer of 2020.

The French president said the country would cap the amount of electricity it derives from nuclear plants at 50 percent by 2035 – a decade later than the goal of 2025 set by his predecessor, François Hollande.

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Macron said he would ask French electricity giant EDF to study the feasibility of more next-generation EPR reactors, but will wait until 2021 before deciding whether to proceed with construction.

EDF's first EPR reactor at Flamanville, along the Atlantic coast of northwest France, was originally set to go online in 2012 but the project has been plagued by technical problems and budget overruns.

Macron also promised to develop renewable energy, saying his priority is weaning France's economy from fuel that contributes to global warming.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP)

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