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French government suspends fuel tax hikes after 'Yellow Vest' protests

Ludovic Marin, AFP | French Prime Minister Édouard Philippe announcing the suspension on rising fuel taxes, in Paris on December 4, 2018.

French Prime Minister Édouard Philippe on Tuesday announced a suspension of the controversial tax increases on fuel planned for January 1 in a move aimed at bringing an end to weeks of "Yellow Vest" protests against the measures.

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Prime Minister Philippe announced a suspension of planned increases in three taxes on fuel for a six-month period in response to nationwide protests against high pump prices and rising living costs.

“This anger, you’d have to be deaf or blind not to see it or hear it,” Philippe said in his address.

“The French who have donned these yellow vests want taxes to fall and work to pay. That’s also what we want. If I didn’t manage to explain this well, if the ruling majority didn’t manage to convince the French, then something must change.”

The backpedaling by President Emmanuel Macron's government appeared designed to calm the nation, coming three days after the worst unrest on the streets of Paris in decades.

"No tax is worth putting the nation's unity in danger," Philippe said, just three weeks after insisting that the government wouldn't change course in its determination to wean French consumers off polluting fossil fuels.

Edouard Philippe announces suspension of tax hike

But demonstrations continued around the country on Tuesday.

Protesters wearing their signature fluorescent yellow vests blocked several fuel depots. In the southern city of Marseille, students clashed with police outside a high school. And on a highway near the southern city of Aubagne, protesters took over a toll booth to let vehicles pass for free. They put up a sign by the side of the road reading, "Macron dictator."

More protests were expected this weekend in Paris.

"It's a first step, but we will not settle for a crumb," said Benjamin Cauchy, a protest leader.

Last weekend, more than 130 people were injured and 412 arrested in the French capital. Shops were looted and cars torched in plush neighborhoods around the famed Champs-Élysées Avenue.

The Arc de Triomphe, which is home to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and was visited by world leaders last month to mark the centenary of the end of World War I, was sprayed with graffiti and vandalised.

"This violence must end," Philippe said.

Philippe held crisis talks with representatives of the major political parties on Monday and met with Macron, who canceled a two-day trip to Serbia amid the most serious challenge to his presidency since his election in May 2017.

Philippe on Tuesday announced a freeze in electricity and natural gas prices until May 2019 and warned protesters against more disruptions.

"If another day of protests takes place on Saturday, it should be authorised and should take place in calm," he said. "The interior minister (Christophe Castaner) will use all means to ensure order is respected."

(FRANCE 24 with AP)

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