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French PM confirms fuel tax suspensions, calls for calm

Published: Updated:

French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe announced on Tuesday new concessions to “yellow vest” protesters, saying planned increases in the price of fuel would be suspended for six months.

“No tax merits putting the unity of the nation in danger,” Philippe said in a televised address, adding that the anger on the streets “originates from a profound injustice: of not being able to live with dignity from one’s work”.

He added that any future protests should be declared in advance and “take place calmly”.

As well as a six-month delay in introducing the carbon-tax increases, Philippe said the period would be used to discuss other measures to help the working poor who rely on vehicles to get to work and go to the shops.

Earlier officials had hinted at possible increases to the minimum wage, but Philippe did not make any such commitment.

He warned citizens, however, that they could not expect better public services and to pay lower taxes, and that therefore compromises needed to be made on both sides.

The demonstrations, which degenerated into street clashes and vandalism in Paris over the weekend, erupted last month over the fuel taxes, which are financing France’s anti-pollution efforts.

Revolt over Macron policies

Originally spurred by the soaring cost of fuel this year, they quickly ballooned into a wider revolt over President Emmanuel Macron, accused of pursuing policies which hit low-income households particularly hard.

Halting the fuel tax increase was one of the main demands listed by “yellow vest” leaders, alongside a higher minimum wage and the return of a wealth tax on high-earners abolished last year.

Macron made the decision to suspend the 2019 fuel tax hikes late Monday, the sources said, after his government spent the day meeting with leaders from all of France’s political parties.

Many were pressing the president to assuage the anger after the running urban battles seen in the capital on Saturday, when dozens of cars were burned and shops attacked and looted.

The prime minister’s office confirmed that Philippe would not meet with a delegation of the “yellow vests” for “security reasons”, after several said they had received threats by protesters contesting their claim to represent the grassroots movement.