Sun. May 19th, 2019

France ‘to suspend fuel tax hikes’ in bid to calm fiery protests

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The French government is preparing to halt fuel tax increases planned for January 1 in a bid to end violent protests against the measures, according to local media. 

Citing government sources, daily newspaper Le Monde and Reuters news agency said Prime Minister Edouard Philippe was due to announce the move later on Tuesday.

The suspension will last “several months” and was aimed at appeasing the so-called “yellow vest” protesters, Le Monde said.

Philippe was also expected to announce other measures, the newspaper said. 

The moves mark President Emmanuel Macron’s first significant U-turn on a major policy since he assumed office in 2017.

“It’s a first step, but we will not settle for a crumb,” said Benjamin Cauchy, one of the leaders of the protests.

The “yellow vests” demonstrations, which began on November 17, were originally spurred by a squeeze on household spending brought about by Macron’s taxes on diesel, which he says are necessary to combat climate change and protect the environment. 

However, they have since evolved into a bigger, general anti-Macron uprising, with many criticising the president for pursuing policies they claim favour the richest members of French society.

Protests in Paris on Saturday turned particularly violent, with the famed Arc de Triomphe defaced and avenues off the capital’s Champs Elysees suffering damage.

Paris police said 412 people were arrested during the clashes in the capital on Saturday and 363 remained in custody, according to the latest figures. 

Four people have been killed in the three-week-long nationwide protests, including an 80-year-old woman who died in hospital on Sunday after being hit by a tear gas canister in Marseille.

The demonstrations have been given the “yellow vest” tag due to the fluorescent jackets kept in all vehicles in France, and are estimated to have cost millions to the economy. 

Philippe, the prime minister, was scheduled to meet moderate members of the movement on Tuesday, but “yellow vests” representatives cancelled the talks citing “security reasons”. 

Cauchy and Jacline Mouraud, two of the leaders of the protests, told AFP they had received threats from hardline protesters who warned them against entering into negotiations with the government.

Macron and Philippe’s approval ratings hit new lows in the wake of the crisis, according to an Ifop-Fiducial poll for Paris Match and Sud Radio that was published on Tuesday.

The president’s approval rating fell to 23 percent in the poll conducted late last week, down six points from the previous month, while the prime minister’s rating fell 10 points to 26 percent. 

Macron’s score matches the low charted by his predecessor Francois Hollande in late 2013, according to Paris Match. Hollande was then considered to be the least popular leader in modern French history.

SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies

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