Representatives of France’s loosely organized gilets jaunes, or yellow vests, movement said on Monday that they would not attend proposed talks with Prime Minister Edouard Philippe on Tuesday for “security reasons.”
Jacline Mouraud and Benjamin Cauchy, two of the leaders of the protests, said they had been warned against negotiating the anti-pollution fuel taxes that had sparked the demonstrations three weeks ago.
Philippe had been due to meet with the delegates at the request of President Emmanuel Macron. Philippe’s office said on Monday he would announce “measures” in favor of the protesters.
Culture Minister Franck Riester said there would be “a strong conciliatory gesture in the coming days,” without giving details.
Pressure to drop the tax hikes
Opposition lawmakers pressed Philippe on Monday to stop planned fuel tax hikes that prompted the protests and the worst crisis of Macron’s government.
Conservative leader Laurent Wauquiez said that the administration did not seem to have “taken the measure of both the anger and the spiral of violence there is in the country,” in its continued refusal to roll back the taxes, which are to be implemented in January alongside financial incentives for citizens to use more environmentally friendly fuels and transport.
Both far-left leader Manuel Bompard and far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen also called for the taxes to be nixed.
Social media-led movement
The movement, named for the yellow safety vests drivers in France are required to keep in their cars, has rocked France with numerous, large protests across the country.
While it began as a protest by long-distance drivers against higher green taxes on diesel, it has since expressed a far broader anger against Macron by people who do not qualify for welfare payments but feel their incomes squeezed.
In some cases the protests have turned violent. Six people have been killed, 100 injured and hundreds more arrested. While the numbers taking part in the rallies have dropped from about 280,000 three weeks ago to 136,000 on Saturday, the violence has increased. Without traditional leaders and organized mainly via social media, the movement has also seen neo-fascists and organized anarchists engage side-by-side in the violence.
The movement has also expanded beyond the initial demand over the tax hike. Some want the president to resign and the national assembly to be dissolved in order for “real representatives of the people” to be elected.
Economic and political challenges
Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire said that the protests were hurting the French bottom line, as hotel reservations plummeted and supermarkets and restaurants reported a dip in turnover.
Gas stations have also complained that they are running out of fuel as demonstrators continued to block 11 major gas depots.
Macron has vowed not to back down, but said on Monday that he would cancel a planned trip to Serbia due to “problems” at home. Commentators suggest that the way he handles the movement will determine his presidency.
es/jm (AFP, dpa)