France abandons petrol tax rises after deadly protests

Roman Schwartz
December 6, 2018

Tuesday's announcements, targeted at low-income families, include a six-month suspension on a rise in fuel taxes, a key issue driving the protests.

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe told senators Thursday that "exceptional measures" would be in place on Saturday in addition to the deployment of 65,000 security forces across France.

On Tuesday, the French prime minister Edouard Philippe made a decision to suspend planned increases to fuel taxes for at least six months in response to weeks of sometimes violent protests by the gilets jaunes (yellow vests) movement, marking the first major U-turn by Macron's administration in 18 months in office.

A group of demonstrators wearing their yellow vest pose on an occupied traffic circle, Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2018 outside La Mede oil refinery, near Martigues, southeastern France.

The protests, which started as a movement against a hike in fuel prices, turned violent, leading to more than 600 people being injured and at least two deaths.

Earlier this week, French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe chose to suspend planned increases to fuel taxes for at least six months in response to weeks of sometimes violent protests, marking the first major U-turn by Macron's administration in 18 months in office.

In all, four people have been killed and hundreds injured in clashes or accidents stemming from the protests.

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

French left-wing opposition parties are seeking a no-confidence vote in President Emmanuel Macron's government amid growing protests and fears of violence.

Fuel taxes had been set to rise on January 1.

On Wednesday, De Rugy said a period of a year was chose to assuage fears that the unpopular increase would be merely postponed, only to be reintroduced once the protests stop.

A demonstrator holds a French flag during a protest of Yellow vests
A demonstrator holds a French flag during a protest of Yellow vests

Griveaux stressed that the tax hikes could be scrapped permanently if no agreement was reached during consultations over the next six months.

The "gilets jaunes" (yellow vest) protests have hit major cities over the past three weekends.

He said the wealth tax could be reassessed in 2019.

Talks planned for Tuesday had been called off after yellow-vest representatives said they had been threatened by hardliners if they dared negotiate with the government.

The farmers' grievances include financial charges on their operations, the head of the main agricultural union said. Macron's move was "on the right path but, in my opinion, it will not fundamentally change the movement", she said.

Students opposed to a university application system remained mobilised, trucking unions called for a rolling strike, and France's largest farm union threatened to launch protests next week.

At Tolbiac University in downtown Paris, students took over a school building and classes were canceled.

Chalencon, a 52-year-old blacksmith from southern France, told the AP the French public needs Macron to "admit he made a mistake, with simple words. that touch the guts and heart of the French".

For weeks Macron held his ground on the fuel taxes, which are meant to finance anti-pollution policies but critics say unfairly weigh on drivers in rural and small-town France.

US President Donald Trump said Tuesday that Macron's retreat vindicated his rejection of the 2015 Paris Agreement on combating climate change.

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