Macron retreats on fuel tax hikes in bid to calm French protests
The French government has backed down on planned fuel tax hikes in a bid to draw the heat out of fierce protests that have escalated into the deepest crisis of Emmanuel Macron's presidency.
The concessions, coming after an earlier 500-million-euro ($570 million) relief package for poorer households, mark the first time 40-year-old Macron has given ground in the face of public opposition.
Prime Minister Edouard Philippe announced Tuesday rollbacks on fuel taxes and electricity price increases in a rare televised address after France was rocked by intense street clashes and vandalism in Paris over the weekend.
"This anger, you would have to be deaf and blind not to see it, nor hear it," Philippe said after more than a fortnight of demonstrations by so-called "yellow vest" protesters.
"No tax merits putting the unity of the nation in danger," he said.
Planned tax increases on petrol and diesel on January 1 will be suspended for six months, while hikes in regulated electricity and gas prices will be frozen during the winter.
Pressure has been mounting on the government after protests degenerated into the worst street clashes in central Paris for decades.
Across France, four people have been killed in accidents linked to the demonstrations and road blockades, and hundreds injured.
For weeks Macron held his ground on the fuel taxes, which are meant to finance anti-pollution policies but critics say unfairly weigh on drivers in rural and small-town France.
Rescinding the January increase - three euro cents for unleaded and six cents for diesel - was a core demand of the demonstrators, alongside a higher minimum wage and the return of a wealth tax on high earners that Macron abolished.
Two groups blockading petrol depots in Brittany said they would stand down following the announcement of the measures, which will cost public coffers some two billion euros ($2.3 billion).
Macron's office said he would not speak publicly about the violence "for the time being", though he met briefly with a protester at his office Tuesday.
He also visited local government offices in the central town of Puy-en-Velay, which were torched during a protest last weekend -- and was booed upon leaving.
The "yellow vest" movement, named after the high-visibility jackets worn by supporters, emerged on social media in October after months of swelling anger over rising fuel prices.
It quickly grew into wider protests against Macron, whom many accuse of representing a Parisian elite with little understanding of their monthly struggle to make ends meet.
Immediately after coming to power in 2017, Macron pushed through tax cuts for entrepreneurs and high-earners - an "original sin" for his critics.
The "yellow vest" protests have blocked highways and fuel depots around the country, causing headaches for businesses and fuel shortages in some regions.