French govt gives in, postpones fuel tax hikes
French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe announced a suspension of fuel tax hikes Tuesday, a major U-turn in an effort to appease a protest movement that has radicalized and plunged Paris into chaos last weekend, French media reported.
Both Le Monde newspaper and France Info radio said the planned increase, which has provoked violent riots, will be suspended for several months. Philippe is also expected to announce other measures aimed at easing tensions, just three weeks after insisting that the government would not change course and remained determined to help wean French consumers off polluting fossils fuels.
Philippe told lawmakers from President Emmanuel Macron's party first and was expected to make an official declaration later Tuesday. There was no immediate comment from his office.
"We have to give the French people a reason to come to their senses. We will have a debate tomorrow at the national assembly, which will be followed by a vote, and then we will have a big debate on how we can devise measures to accompany the ecological transition," Philippe was quoted as saying by Le Monde.
"We must appease the situation for the French people." It's unlikely Philippe's announcement will put an end to the road blockades and demonstrations, with more possible protests this weekend in Paris. On Tuesday, protesters kept blocking several fuel depots and many insisted their fight was not over.
"It's a first step, but we will not settle for a crumb," said Benjamin Cauchy, one of the leaders of the protests.
Prominent Socialist figure Segolene Royal, a former candidate for president, lauded Philippe's decision but said it came too late.
"This decision should have been taken from the start, as soon as the conflict emerged," she said. "We felt it was going to be very, very hard because we saw the rage, the exasperation, especially from pensioners. They should have withdrawn (the tax hikes) right away. The more you let a conflict fester, the more you eventually have to concede."
Far-right leader Marine Le Pen lashed out at the decision as too little, tweeting that it was "obviously not up to the expectations of the French people struggling with precarity."
After a third consecutive weekend of clashes in Paris led by protesters wearing distinctive yellow traffic vests, Philippe held crisis talks with representatives of major political parties on Monday. He also met with Macron and other ministers in order to find a quick solution to the crisis.
Facing the most serious street protests since his election in May 2017, Macron has canceled a two-day trip to Serbia to stay in France this week.
More than 100 people were injured in the French capital and 412 arrested over the weekend during France's worst urban riot in years, with dozens of cars torched.
The protests began last month with motorists upset over the fuel tax hike and have grown to encompass a range of complaints, with protesters claiming that Macron's government doesn't care about the problems of ordinary people.
The planned new tax was to increase gasoline price by 4 euro cents per liter from January next year. Gasoline currently costs about 1.42 euros a liter in Paris, slightly more than diesel.
Since the movement kicked off on Nov. 17, three people have been killed and hundreds injured in clashes or accidents stemming from the protests. (AP) CPS
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