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Macron promises 'significant' tax cuts, reforms after months of Yellow Vest protests

Philippe Wojazer, Reuters | French President Emmanuel Macron speaks during a press conference to unveil his policy response to the Yellow Vests protest, at the Élysée Palace in Paris, France, April 25, 2019.

President Emmanuel Macron Thursday promised significant tax cuts but also a return to public order in France as he revealed his long-awaited response to nearly half a year of street protests.

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Macron, 41, swept to power in 2017 on hopes he would be a youthful breath of fresh air for France.

But over the past six months, the momentum has been knocked out of his presidency following the emergence of the anti-government "yellow vest" movement, which has held weekly protests against social inequality.

In his headline announcement, Macron vowed to "significantly" reduce income tax for workers in France, while defending his controversial decision to scrap a wealth tax early in his term.

"I want cuts for people who work by significantly reducing income taxes," Macron said at the Élysée Palace, at his first solo formal news conference inside France of his presidency.

On the wealth tax cut, he said it would be reviewed in 2020, adding: "It was a reform to stimulate production, not a present for the rich."

Macron: 'The anger expressed wasn't due to our reforms'

Macron vowed to press ahead with his reform programme and also warned the yellow vest movement -- whose protests have often turned violent -- that it is time for a return to order.

"The transformations that are in progress and the transformations that are essential for our country should not be stopped," he said.

Macron made the announcements as part of a series of reforms drawn up after a vast listening exercise called the Great National Debate launched in response to the protests.

He recognised that the yellow vest movement had led to many in France feeling "anger and impatience for change" and praised its "just demands".

'Macron not talking to Yellow Vests, but to voters who still support them'

But he lamented that the movement had "transformed progressively" and been hijacked partly by episodes of anti-Semitic violence, attacks on journalists and homophobia.

"But I don't want that the actions of some people eclipse the just demands that were put forward at the start of this movement and were broadly supported," he said.

'Moment of truth'

Macron, sitting alone at a desk at the Palace's vast main reception hall the Salle des fêtes, gave an initial speech then answered questions from reporters.

But he is likely to have an uphill struggle to convince the French, with an Ipsos-Sopra Steria opinion poll for Le Monde showing that more than three quarters of French voters did not believe the process would improve the political situation.

For Macron, known to favour surprise and the dramatic gesture, the stakes are huge.

Analysis: key takeaways from Macron's press conference

Opinion polls show his popularity rating stuck on or even under 30 percent, a far cry from the heady days after his inauguration when his approval rating was over 60 percent.

Macron already has his eye on the 2022 presidential election, acutely aware that his predecessors Nicolas Sarkozy and Francois Hollande only lasted one term and failed to implement lasting change.

At stake is not just his ambitious agenda to modernise France but his status as a global statesman able to stand up to US President Donald Trump and lead Europe as German Chancellor Angela Merkel steps aside and Britain is bedevilled by Brexit.

Macron had been due to make his big announcement via a pre-recorded address, which was to be broadcast on April 15.

But just two hours beforehand, Notre-Dame cathedral went up in flames, forcing the presidency to cancel the broadcast as Macron rushed out to the burning Paris landmark.

A day later, the entire text of his reform plan speech was leaked to the media.

The leak created a major quandary for the Élysée, which was left wondering whether to rehash the old speech or try something new.

Also up in the air was how to deliver the message, with the Élysée eventually plumping for a news conference, a first for a head of state who critics say has kept a near imperial distance from the media.

How the president -- criticised by opponents for apparent aloofness in the face of rising social problems -- is perceived to have handled the event will be of critical importance.

"The moment of truth," said the Le Parisien newspaper. "Macron's crucial appointment with the country," added Le Figaro.

(AFP)

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