France suspends fuel tax hike, protesters vow to fight on
The French government’s decision to suspend fuel tax and utility price hikes Tuesday did little to appease protesters, who called the move a “first step” and vowed to fight on after large-scale rioting in Paris last weekend.
In a major U-turn for the government, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe announced in a live televised address that the planned increases set for January would be postponed until summer.
The backpedaling by President Emmanuel Macron’s government appeared designed to calm the nation three days after the worst unrest on the streets of Paris in decades.
“No tax is worth putting the nation’s unity in danger,” Philippe said, just three weeks after insisting that the government wouldn’t change course in its determination to wean French consumers off polluting fossil fuels.
But demonstrations continued around the country Tuesday.
Protesters wearing their signature fluorescent yellow vests kept blocking several fuel depots and, on a highway near the southern city of Aubagne, protesters took over a toll booth to let vehicles pass for free. They put up a sign by the side of the road reading “Macron dictator.”
“It’s a first step, but we will not settle for a crumb,” said Benjamin Cauchy, a protest leader.
More protests were expected this weekend in Paris.
Last weekend, more than 130 people were injured and 412 arrested in the French capital. Shops were looted and cars torched in plush neighbourhoods around the famed Champs-Elysees Avenue.
Philippe held crisis talks with representatives of major political parties on Monday, and met with Macron, who cancelled a two-day trip to Serbia amid the most serious challenge to his presidency since his election in May 2017.
The protests began last month with motorists upset over the fuel tax hike, but have grown to encompass a range of complaints, with protesters claiming that Macron’s government doesn’t care about the problems of ordinary people.
In all, four people have been killed and hundreds injured in clashes or accidents stemming from the protests.
Taxes account for about 60 per cent of the price at the pump in France. The government increased its hydrocarbon tax at the start of the year by 7.6 cents per liter on diesel and 3.9 cents to gasoline, and a new boost at the start of next year will add another 6.5 cents per liter of diesel and 2.9 cents per liter of gasoline, part of an effort to bring diesel and gasoline taxes in line.
Diesel prices at the pump in France have risen 16 percent this year to an average 1.48 euros ($2.23) a liter. Gasoline is up 5 percent to 1.47 euros ($2.22) per liter, after peaking at 1.57 euros ($2.37).