Yellow vest protesters reject Macron government U-turn on fuel tax hikes

Yellow vest protesters reject Macron government U-turn on fuel tax hikesPresident Emmanuel Macron of France on Tuesday caved in to demands by angry “yellow vest” protesters by suspending fuel tax hikes in an attempt to quell fresh violent demonstrations. With pressure mounting avoid a re-run of the violence next Saturday, Edouard Philippe, the prime minister, announced a string of conciliatory measures just days after the president insisted he would not change course. “A tax must not endanger the unity of a nation,” Mr Philippe told MPs. Planned increases in fuel taxes will be suspended for six months, as will stricter pollution tests on cars - intended as an incentive for drivers to move to cleaner vehicles. Increases in electricity and gas prices will also be frozen over the winter. The measures come a week after a first package of €500-million in sweeteners for poorer households had failed to stave off last weekend’s protests. The CFDT union welcomed the measures, calling for wage negotiations and insisting that green transition must not be abandoned in France. Yellow vest protesters clash with police in France, in pictures However, many of the “gilets jaunes” who have been blocking roads and even fuel depots around France for the past three weeks insisted the measures were “too little too late” and called for fresh protests next Saturday. Most opposition figures said the same. "We don’t want crumbs, we want the whole baguette,” said Benjamin Cauchy, one of the founding figures of the movement, who called for nothing short of a “new division of wealth in France”. The yellow vests, so-called because they wear road safety high-vis jackets, have caused havoc with traffic in the run-up to the Christmas holidays. Thousands convened in Paris last Saturday in protests that descended into the worst riots in the city centre in 50 years. More than 200 cars were torched and symbols of state, including the Arc de Triomphe, damaged. While the protests began over fuel taxes, they have snowballed into a wider revolt against Mr Macron, mainly by those in small-town and rural France. Flashpoint: France's Yellow Vest protesters have brought violent chaos to central Paris and across the country Credit: Etienne De Malglaive/Getty Images The protesters see the ex-investment banker as an arrogant "president of the rich" who is out of touch with ordinary folk struggling to make ends meet. A widespread complaint is that the low-income provincial workers of “forgotten” France can no longer scrape after paying some of the highest tax bills in Europe. A large number want a partially-scrapped wealth tax to be reinstated. Yet their demands are incredibly broad and sometimes contradictory. Many yellow vests are calling for taxes to be slashed but say more should be spent on public services. The prime minister pointed out that you can’t have both. There has even been a proposal to sack Mr Macron and replace him with France’s former chief of the defence staff, Gen Pierre de Villiers. Some protesters said they were heartened by the government retreat, including a group who said they would lift their blockade of a petrol depot in Brest, in Brittany. Edouard Philippe has been under pressure to suspend the controversial new taxes Credit:  FRANCOIS GUILLOT/AFP But another group blocking a petrol depot in Le Mans, western France, said they would keep going. A common complaint was that Mr Macron had not “deigned to speak to his people”, leaving the prime minister to make the announcements. The President instead travelled to Le Puy en Velay, central France, to the site of a state prefecture headquarters that protesters burnt down. Eric Drouet, a lorry driver who was one of the initial instigators of the movement, said: “This is not at all what we expected”. He said the measures had come too late to stop a “cristallisation of all types of anger.” He called on yellow vests to return to Paris next Saturday. “People are more and more motivated. They are organising themselves. We will be even greater in number.”