Sun, Dec 09, 2018 - Page 7 News List

Macron blinks as ‘yellow vest’ protests force fuel tax climbdown

Members of the grassroots groups said the protests would not die down following concessions from the Cabinet, dismissing a six-month suspension of the president’s tax plans as ‘crumbs’

By Gregory Viscusi and Helene Fouquet  /  Bloomberg

Macron’s silence drew the wrath of some.

“Macron has still not deigned to talk to the people,” Laetitia Dewalle, a “yellow vest” spokeswoman, said on BFM TV. “We feel his disdain. He maintains his international engagements, but doesn’t speak to the people.”

Sebastien Chenu, a spokesman for the far-right National Rally party, which has supported the “yellow vests” in hopes of capturing their votes, said on LCI that “the French won’t be fooled. The government has understood nothing, it’s just playing for time.”

Members of Macron’s Republic on the Move welcomed the measures, saying that they would help calm the protests.

“The prime minister has opened the door, now the protests must end,” French Deputy Aurore Berge, from the Paris region, told reporters after Philippe met deputies before making the public announcement. “We have reached a level of violence that is not safe for the French people and doesn’t allow this country to be reformed.”

Markets showed little reaction: The benchmark CAC 40 stock index was down about 0.5 percent at 2:45pm in Paris, broadly in line with declines elsewhere in Europe.

Macron’s backing down comes as his popularity hit a new low.

A poll by Ifop for Paris Match magazine and Sud-Radio released on Tuesday found that Macron’s support had fallen six points to 23 percent. Philippe was at 26 percent.

While Macron and the French National Assembly, where his party holds a majority, do not face new elections until 2022, the reversal on taxes could undermine the rest of his reform agenda.

The protesters, who started out blockading traffic across France, brought their fight to Paris over the past two weekends. They defaced the Arc de Triomphe, burned hundreds of cars, and blocked roads and fuel depots.

The protests are expanding. High school students, ambulance drivers and farmers are demonstrating over unrelated demands — all in opposition to Macron’s policies, which are seen as too favorable to businesses and the wealthy.

The grassroots, leaderless “yellow vests” — named after vests that all French motorists must keep in their cars — are struggling to structure themselves.

Philippe’s office said that a meeting planned later on Tuesday with self-declared representatives of the movement had been canceled, after invitees were said to have received death threats from fellow protesters.

Philippe warned that the government would “mobilize everything” to ensure that another round of protests planned for yesterday in Paris would not degenerate into the violence seen over the past two weekends.

Business leaders warned that the protests are causing economic damage, with the country’s retailers’ federation saying that declines in sales had reached 40 percent in some parts of the country.

Meanwhile, soccer club Paris Saint-Germain said that it was asked by the police to postpone its game yesterday against Montpellier, citing security concerns.

French daily Le Monde yesterday reported that six professional soccer matches that were canceled this week would be rescheduled for Jan. 15 and 16.

Additional reporting by staff writer, James Regan, Francois de Beaupuy and Angeline Benoit

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