France postpones increase in fuel tax following protests

No levy merits putting the nation’s unity in danger, says PM
The French government on Tuesday 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 ($570-million) relief package for poorer households, mark the first time Mr. Macron has given ground in the face of public opposition. Prime Minister Édouard Philippe announced rollbacks on fuel taxes and electricity price increases in a 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,” Mr. Philippe said after more than a fortnight of demonstrations by “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, he said, while hikes in regulated electricity and gas prices will also be frozen during the winter. Pressure has been mounting on the government after protests degenerated into the worst street clashes in central Paris in decades, leading to scores of injuries and arrests. Rescinding the January increase was a core demand of the demonstrators, alongside a higher minimum wage and the return of a wealth tax on high-earners which was abolished last year. Yet, many said after Mr. Philippe’s speech that they had no intention of calling off their protests and it remains to be seen if the government’s proposals are enough to stem the protests. Mr. Macron has not spoken publicly about Saturday’s destruction in Paris since his return from the G20 summit on Sunday, and his office said on Tuesday that he would not comment “for the time being”.
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