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France abandons petrol price hikes in response to violent protests

06 December 2018

"If I didn't manage to explain it, if the ruling majority didn't manage to convince the French, then something must change", Phillipe said. "I'm calling this government to resign".

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe echoed the call, telling parliament: "What is at stake is the security of French people and our institutions".

To be sure, Macron's recent efforts to combat "climate change" and reduce France's dependence on "fossil fuels" by levying a new tax on gasoline and other household fuels is not the only reason the French are protesting, but fuel tax is the "straw that broke the camel's back".

Ending the ISF "wealth tax" on high earners was a key part of Mr Macron's pro-business presidential campaign, seen as a way of encouraging people to invest and hire in France.

The prime minister had defended the government's position in front of lawmakers on Wednesday in a debate on the protests in the National Assembly.

Eric Drouet, one of the movement's most famous instigators, called for a "return to Paris" on Saturday, "near the places of power, the Champs-Élysées, the Arc de Triomphe, Concorde".

The former investment banker was heckled by a crowd as he visited a burned out government building in Puy-en-Velay in central France on Tuesday night, just hours after a new opinion poll showed his approval rating at just 23%.

The "yellow vests" are largely made up of modest earners from rural and small-town France, and many want Macron's proposed tax cut for the richest repealed.

Philippe said "the tax is now abandoned" in the 2019 budget, and the government is "ready for dialogue".

Macron's office said he would not speak publicly about the violence "for the time being", though he met briefly with a protester at his office Tuesday.

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But the policy, along with comments deemed insensitive to the working class, has prompted numerous ex-banker's critics to label him a "president of the rich". People angry about the planned tax increase donned the yellow emergency vests all French drivers must have in their cars in case of a breakdown and took to the streets in mid-November.

But Macron personally stood his ground, telling his cabinet: "We will not undo everything that has been done over the past 18 months".

French protesters welcome Macron's decision to scrap the fuel tax rise planned for next year, but said it may not be enough to contain public anger.

However, they have since evolved into a bigger, general anti-Macron uprising, with many criticising the president for pursuing policies they claim favour the richest members of French society.

"When you leave things to fester too long, it costs more", Jean-Francois Amadieu, a sociologist at Paris 1 university, told AFP.

Protests continued Wednesday, with petrol depots, service stations, and shopping centres among the targets of the "yellow vests" or "gilets jaunes" - so named for the high-visibility road safety jackets they wear.

And on Wednesday, France's largest farmers union said it will launch protests next week, after trucking unions called for a rolling strike.

While understanding that the nation wants taxes to be lowered, Phillipe cautioned that such a move would result in fewer benefits for French citizens.

Fuel shortages due to blockades remain a problem in areas of Brittany, Normandy and southeast regions of France.

France abandons petrol price hikes in response to violent protests