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French prime minister offers to meet 'yellow vest' protesters

Benoit Tessier, Reuters | Masked protesters wearing yellow vests, a symbol of a French drivers' protest against higher fuel prices, take part in a demonstration on the Champs-Elysees in Paris, France, November 24, 2018.

France's prime minister is offering to meet with members of the "yellow vests" movement, which has caused disruption by blocking roads in protest against fuel tax increases and economic hardship.

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Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said on BFM television Wednesday that the protesters are expressing "a lot of legitimate things that should be heard.”

But a meeting might prove difficult to organise as many in the grassroots movement, which emerged through social media, have refused to recognise eight "representatives" chosen in a Facebook ballot.

Some protesters are calling for a new action Saturday on the Champs-Elysées in Paris, where a protest last Saturday degenerated into violence.

Meanwhile, protesters shouted at the minister for overseas territories, Annick Girardin, as she sought to calm tensions Wednesday on the Indian Ocean island of Reunion, where demonstrations have been particularly violent.

The “yellow vests”, named after the safety jackets that are mandatory in all French vehicles, denounce perceived elitism by President Emmanuel Macron, who failed to defuse the anger with a speech Tuesday explaining the environmental need for the tax hikes.

'I will not give in to those who want destruction and disorder'

Two in three French people back the protest movement, and nearly 80 percent reject Macron’s proposed measures as "insufficient", according to a survey published by Opinion Way on Wednesday.

Only 32 percent of respondents said they opposed the movement, which has caused economic disruption as demonstrators hold up road traffic.

A centrist, Macron has pledged a three-month public consultation aimed at producing a roadmap to help France shift to a low-carbon economy without penalising low-income families.

But he refused to go back on an increase in fuel tax which is due to come into force in January, saying it is needed to help fight pollution.

While initially focused on fuel taxes, the "yellow vest" movement has snowballed into wider protests against economic hardship in provincial France and the policies of Macron's government.

(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP)

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