France holds meetings on fuel price protests


A ‘yellow vests’ (Gilets jaunes) protester with the words written of the back of her vest that read ‘Macron traitor, the people are hungry’, blocks the road leading to the Frontignan oil depot in the south of France.

French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe held meetings with political party leaders yesterday, two days after protests over petrol prices turned violent in Paris. Philippe is also due to meet members of the “yellow vest” movement today at centrist President Emmanuel Macron’s request, the premier’s office said. However, with Macron apparently still unwilling to give in to the protesters’ demand to cancel fuel tax rises planned for January, it is not clear what could come out of the meetings. Conservative opposition leader Laurent Wauquiez said his meeting with Philippe had not convinced him that the government “has taken the measure of both the anger and the spiral of violence there is in the country”.

“Today we need a calming gesture,” Wauquiez said, insisting that “one sole decision” was “expected by all the French people. It’s an announcement that the tax rises are being cancelled”. More than 100 people were injured and more than 400 arrested during Saturday’s protests, the second week in a row that “yellow vest” protests in Paris degenerated into rioting, authorities said. In the southern port city of Marseille, a police source told DPA that the death of an 80-year-old woman appeared to be linked to clashes there on Saturday. The woman had died after a hospital operation, but her hospitalisation may have been due to being struck by a tear gas grenade, debris from which were found in her home, the source said, adding that the case was still under investigation.

Deputy Interior Minister Laurent Nunez said authorities were not currently considering imposing a state of emergency in response to the protests, which have included roadblocks across France for several weeks. A state of emergency was “one of the range of measures we are examining, but reimposing it is not currently on the table”, Nunez told RTL radio. Nunez was also non-committal about the prospect of banning further “yellow vest” protests in Paris. “All right, so, we issue a ban, but then you have to be able to implement it, because we’re dealing with determined people who will come in any case,” he said.

Macron’s centrist government has been blindsided by the largely leaderless movement, named after the yellow high-visibility safety jackets that have become their symbol and uniform. The “yellow vests”, who are strongest in smaller cities and towns, have demanded that Macron cancel the rises in petrol and diesel duty due to come into effect in January. But without any central organisation, the movement’s other demands remain unclear and sometimes contradictory, although generally focused on the cost of living and taxation. Macron, who is known to dislike acting under pressure, has refused to back down on the tax rises but has promised consultations as well as measures to ensure that the tax rises do not coincide with market-driven rises in fuel prices.

Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire meanwhile said the protests were taking a severe toll on several business sectors. Supermarkets had reported a drop of 15% to 25% in turnover and restaurants of 20% to 50% depending on location, he said. It was not immediately clear if he was referring to the entire period of the protests, which started on November 17, or just to the Saturdays which saw the main mobilisations. The government would authorise lay-offs and extra Sunday openings to help businesses deal with the situation, he said.

Sources and photo-credits: DPA, Gulf Times