France suspends fuel tax hike after protests


Paris: French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe on Tuesday announced a six-month suspension of a plan to introduce a fuel tax hike which has led to weeks of violent protests.

The tax on petrol and diesel, due to increase next month in a move towards cleaner fuels, sparked protests that quickly escalated to reflect a range of grievances including the marginalization of rural areas, high living costs and general anger at President Emmanuel Macron’s economic policies.

The demonstrations hit major French cities causing damage for the past three weekends. Three people died since the unrest began and resulted in violence and vandalism as statues were smashed at the Arc de Triomphe.

Philippe said that people’s anger must be heard and the measures would not be applied until there had been proper debate with those affected, the BBC reported.

He said the six-month suspension would be applied to fuel tax increases as well as hikes in electricity and gas prices and strict vehicle emissions controls.

Philippe had earlier sought a compromise with the protesters, but they called off talks citing death threats from extremists in their ranks.

His announcement came in a TV address after he met MPs from the ruling party, La Republique en Marche, to discuss a response to rioting, looting and destruction in Paris amid the “gilets jaunes” (yellow vests) movement.

The movement is called “yellow vests” because the protesters took to the streets wearing the high-visibility yellow clothing that is required to be carried in every vehicle by French law.

“The French people who have put on yellow vests love their country,” said the Prime Minister. “We share those values.”

But he said the violence must stop.

“The main role of the state is to guarantee public order but we must fight against anything that endangers the unity of the nation,” he said, adding that any future demonstrations should be declared officially and carried out peacefully.

The protest movement earlier broadened its demands to include Macron’s resignation and the dissolution of the French Parliament.

Macron repeatedly vowed not to give in to street rule but was forced to reconsider after the worst violence in Paris in half a century. He accused his political opponents of hijacking the movement in order to block the reforms.

Nearly 300,000 people took part in the first countrywide demonstration. There were more than 106,000 a week later and 136,000 people last Saturday.

Macron had postponed a two-day visit to Serbia this week to deal with the crisis.