French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe has announced a six-month suspension of the fuel tax hike which triggered massive unrest across the country, saying the measure is aimed at stopping the violence and restoring public order.
The French government will suspend the fuel tax rise for six months to calm down the Yellow Vest protests, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said in a televised speech on Tuesday. He stressed that no tax should endanger public unity and “the violence must stop.”
Philippe said the protests represented “the anger of the France that works hard and struggles to make ends meet.” Despite the concessions, he slammed rioters who assaulted police, saying they will be found and put on trial.
“This anger, you’d have to be deaf or blind not to see it or hear it,” Philippe said in an address. “The French who have donned yellow vests want taxes to drop, and work to pay. That’s also what we want,” the Prime Minister maintained.
The fuel taxes will not rise until they are debated by all stakeholders and the French people. He also promised to increase the minimum wage by 3 percent next year and direct the government to focus on improving living standards.
In a series of tweets published on Tuesday, Philippe assured the public that gas and electricity prices will not go up this winter. He also admitted that more transparency on taxes is needed. “Our taxes are the highest in Europe, our tax system is terribly complex,” he added.
Previously, Philippe’s office has said the prime minister would announce some “measures” favoring the protesters. Culture Minister Franck Riester told reporters Philippe may make “a strong conciliatory gesture in the coming days,” but did not provide any details.
Earlier on Monday, it emerged that protesters representing the movement have pulled out of the planned meeting with the Prime Minister. Two of the protest leaders, Jacline Mouraud and Benjamin Cauchy, told AFP they had received threats from hardline protesters who warned them against entering into dialogue with the government.
The “Yellow Vests” have been protesting about a controversial fuel tax since mid-November. Massive rallies hit Paris and France’s major cities, with protesters demanding to drop the tax rise.
President Emmanuel Macron repeatedly said he will not back down on taxes, but on Monday the government signaled that it is ready to make some concessions. Also that day, he held an urgent security meeting and cancelled a planned visit to Serbia to tackle the crisis.
The protests quickly spread across France, sometimes snowballing into major clashes between police and rioters. In late November, the Yellow Vest rallies in Paris quickly descended into chaos turning city streets into a ‘warzone’. Numerous cars and trash bins were torched, and windows were smashed.
The French government mulled a state of emergency on the back of Paris riots, but Deputy Interior Minister Laurent Nunez said that was “not on the table for now.”
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Experts suggested the protests are targeting government policies in general rather than fuel taxes as such. Jean Bricmont, a French writer and political commentator, told RT there is not much that French authorities could do to defuse tensions as Paris “has to obey the orders from the European Commission.”
Bricmont suggested that Macron “doesn’t realize the depth of the crisis” and has nothing to offer to resolve it. Two-thirds of the French support the upheaval, according to a new poll by OpinionWay. The survey asked over 1000 people and 66 percent answered that they stand for the protesters.