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UPDATE 2-Macron heeds diesel tax anger after Paris 'battle scenes'

Updated: 26-11-2018 21:19 IST
French President Emmanuel Macron, caught off guard by violent demonstrations against diesel tax hikes, warned his cabinet on Monday that the protests threatened to tarnish France's image and he said the government needed to listen to voter anger.

The 10 days of unrest, which on Saturday left some Parisian boulevards transformed into battlefields, hit Macron as he sought to counter a sharp decline in popularity, and have again exposed him to charges of being out of touch with voters.

But the French leader has shown no signs of reversing the diesel tax hikes, which he says are needed to help spur a switch to greener energy, though he is now indicating a willingness to soften the blow for motorists on modest incomes.

Police on Saturday fired tear gas, water cannons and rubber pellets at thousands of protesters who trashed restaurants and shop-fronts and set wheelie bins ablaze on Paris' upmarket Champs Elysees boulevard, a major tourist magnet.

"We shouldn't underestimate the impact of these images of the Champs-Elysees (...) with battle scenes that were broadcast by the media in France and abroad," government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux said, recounting the president's words.

Now in their second week, the "yellow vest" protesters have blocked roads across the country, at times impeding access to fuel depots, out-of-town shopping malls and factories.

"Behind this anger there is obviously something deeper that we must respond to, because this anger, these anxieties have existed for a long time," Griveaux said.

Protesters will be looking for concrete answers from Macron when he and his ecology minister unveil a new longterm energy strategy on Tuesday.


Macron has doubled down in his defence of the diesel tax, aware that the French treasury is hungry for the revenues the levy generates and that unwinding the tax would damage his green credentials.

He has already earmarked 500 million euros to help poorer citizens buy less-polluting vehicles as he sought to answer criticism that his reforms have eaten into household spending. But it was not enough to avert the wave of unrest.

The weekend's violence also exposed tensions within the amorphous "yellow vests" movement, so-called because the protesters don the high-vis jackets that all motorists in France must carry in their vehicles.

On Monday, they strove to maintain a united front, forming a committee tasked with securing a meeting with the president. Government spokesman Griveaux said an encounter would take place if they came forward with concrete proposals.

But some in the movement said divisions were coming to the fore.

"The 'yellow vests' are clearly splintering," Benjamin Cauchy, who has been at the forefront of the protests in the southwestern city of Toulouse, told BFM TV.

He said hardliners on both the right and left were hijacking the movement, which mushroomed via social media, and that he was quitting. Other protesters denounced Cauchy's own right-wing convictions and said he was acting in his own interests.

Despite Saturday's violence in Paris, there are signs the protests are weakening and becoming less effective.

Shopping malls saw a 15 percent fall in consumer footfall on Saturday compared with the same day last year, according to the CNCC umbrella group of shopping centres. Last week the impact was worse, with a 45 percent decline.

(Reporting by Michel Rose and Richard Lough; Editing by Sudip Kar-Gupta, Richard Balmforth)

(This story has not been edited by Devdiscourse staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)