France fuel protests: PM Philippe suspends fuel tax rise

France’s PM has announced a six-month suspension of a fuel tax rise which has led to weeks of violent protests.

Edouard 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 protests have hit major French cities, causing considerable damage for the past three weekends.

The “gilets jaunes” (yellow vests) protests have now grown to reflect more widespread anger at the government.

Three people have died since the unrest began and the resulting violence and vandalism – notably when statues were smashed at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris last Saturday – have been widely condemned.

“Yellow vests” are so called because they have taken to the streets wearing the high-visibility yellow clothing that is required to be carried in every vehicle by French law.

The movement has grown via social media and has supporters across the political spectrum.

President Emmanuel Macron was elected last year with an overwhelming mandate for sweeping reform, but his popularity has fallen sharply in recent months.

Mr Macron has accused his political opponents of hijacking the movement in order to block the reforms.

What did Mr Philippe say?

Mr Philippe announced the measures in a TV address after meeting MPs from the ruling party La Republique en Marche.

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.

“The French people who have put on yellow vests love their country,” he said. “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.

Mr Philippe added that a public consultation would be held on taxes and public spending from 15 December until 1 March.

It is not clear how the government will find the revenue it was anticipating from these measures, but Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire – quoted by Reuters news agency – said the suspension would not put its budget commitments in jeopardy.

What is the wider anger about?

Emmanuel Macron was elected on a platform of economic reform which would, the French people were told, improve their lot – with lower unemployment and a kick-started economy.

But many feel that has not emerged. An analysis of the 2018-19 budget carried out by France’s public policy institute, for example, found that the poorest quarter of households would largely see their income drop or stay the same under the plans.

Source: BBC

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