Macron abandons fuel-tax hike amid fears of new ‘Yellow Vest’ protests

Marcos Brindicci, Reuters file photo| French President Macron was forced to backpedal on the fuel tax as the ‘Yellow Vest’ movement was gearing up for a new round of protests.

French President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday announced that he was abandoning a proposed fuel-tax hike amid fears of more unrest after weeks of nationwide protests that have already cost several lives and millions of euros in damage.


The Élysée presidential palace confirmed the president’s decision in an emailed document sent to FRANCE 24.

While some protesters celebrated the move as a victory, others said Macron's surrender came too late and is no longer enough to quell the mounting anger at their president, whom they consider out-of-touch with the problems of ordinary people.

The government had previously announced it would suspend the tax increase for a period of six months, but was forced to backpedal further as the country faced a new round of "Yellow Vest" protests this weekend.

“The government is ready for dialogue and has proven so, because the proposed tax increase has been dropped from the 2019 budget bill,” Prime Minister Édouard Philippe told lawmakers late Wednesday.

While Philippe made it clear that the measure would not be in the current budget bill, he did not say whether it would be included in a later 2019 budget update.

Macron and his government appealed for calm Wednesday, and signalled they were ready to make further concessions to avoid more violence.

"The moment that we are living through is not about political opposition, it's about the republic," government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux said after a cabinet meeting where he said Macron urged decision-makers to issue "a clear and explicit call to calm."

But Macron's office said he told ministers he would stick to his decision to cut a "wealth tax" on high-earners   a move which has infuriated many protesters.

Paris on Saturday was subject to the worst rioting in decades, with more than 130 people injured and 412 arrests. Shops lining Paris’s famed Champs-Élysées Avenue were looted and several cars were torched.

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 also sprayed with graffiti and vandalised.

The Yellow Vest protests began November 17 over the government's plan to raise taxes on diesel and gasoline. But by the time Macron bowed to three weeks of violence and abandoned the new tax, the protesters were demanding much more.

Many workers in France are angry over the combination of low wages, high taxes and high unemployment (above 9 percent) that have left many people struggling financially.The protests took on an even bigger dimension on Wednesday, with trade unions and farmers vowing to join the fray.

The presidency, meanwhile, warned of possible violence during a new round of protests planned for Saturday in Paris and elsewhere in the country.

"We have reasons to fear major violence," a source in the Élysée Palace told AFP amid calls for fresh mobilisation of the Yellow Vest movement.

Jacline Mouraud, one of the self-proclaimed spokespeople for the disparate movement, told the Associated Press that Macron's concession "comes much too late, unfortunately".

"It's in the right direction, but in my opinion it will not fundamentally change the movement," she said.

The protests have left four people dead and have seriously damaged Macron’s approval ratings, which a new Ifop poll released Tuesday showed had dropped to 23 percent.

(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP and REUTERS)

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