Minister says it is ‘time to listen’ but president expected to hold firm on fuel tax rise
Angelique Chrisafis in Paris- The Guardian
The French president, Emmanuel Macron, has said the government must present a “clear answer” to the anger of people on low incomes after protesters marched in Paris against rising fuel taxes and what they called an elite political class cut off from reality.
The government has vowed not to back down on the new taxes on diesel and petrol, which were the starting point for grassroots citizens’ protests across France. The movement has since broadened into a wider outpouring against inequality and accusations that Macron’s policies favour the rich. The protests in Paris had the support of a majority of French people.
Macron told reporters in Brussels that the government must present a clear answer amid speculation he would next week call for a consultation on living standards or suggest measures to soften the impact of rising petrol costs. But, having staked his political identity on not giving in to street protests, the president is not expected to roll back on the fuel tax.
Thousands of demonstrators – known as the “gilets jaunes” or “yellow vests” because they wear fluorescent, high-visibility vests – poured on to the Champs-Elysées in Paris on Saturday where they sung the national anthem and called for Macron to resign. By nightfall, barricades were set on fire, luxury shop windows smashed and traffic lights uprooted. Twenty-four people, including five police officers, were injured and 130 arrested.
The government blamed the violence on a small minority of “ultra-right” trouble-makers who infiltrated the demonstrators.
Donald Trump used Saturday’s demonstration as another opportunity to tweet insults at Macron, who he had railed against in tweets earlier this month.
The US president referenced the Paris protests to hammer home his own unrelated disputes with the EU on trade and defence spending and play to his domestic audience.
Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump)
The large and violent French protests don’t take into account how badly the United States has been treated on Trade by the European Union or on fair and reasonable payments for our GREAT military protection. Both of these topics must be remedied soon.
Trump has frequently criticised other Nato countries, including France, over their levels of defence spending and says the EU has treated the US “very unfairly” on a range of trade issues.
The French economy minister, Bruno Le Maire, acknowledged on Sunday that “the current crisis goes far beyond just a question of fuel”, adding that it was important that “work be better paid” to improve living standards.
“It is time to listen to the French,” he said on BFM television, suggesting that Macron in a speech on Tuesday would call for “grassroots debates” throughout the country on government policies.
The interior ministry said 106,000 people protested in France on Saturday, down on 282,000 the previous weekend.