French government reportedly set to suspend fuel tax hike after violent protests – CNBC

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The French government is reportedly ready to suspend a controversial rise in fuel tax that has caused widespread protests throughout the country and dramatic scenes of violence and civil unrest.

French media reported Tuesday morning that Prime Minister Edouard Philippe is to announce a moratorium on the planned fuel tax hike that has caused public anger in the country.

The news was carried by French newspapers Le Figaro, Le Monde and Liberation, as well as news agencies Reuters and AFP. Both the prime minister’s and president’s office declined to comment on the reports when contacted by CNBC.

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Leaders from the “Yellow Vest” movement, so-called because of the high visibility jackets worn by demonstrators, have reportedly refused to meet Philippe on Tuesday for talks on how to diffuse opposition to planned fuel tax increases.

Initial protests in previous weeks have now morphed into wider anger at a perceived drop in living standards, price rises and anti-government sentiment, particularly leveled at French President Emmanuel Macron who is seen by many as representative of the elite and wealthy.

Protests have turned increasingly dramatic and often violent. Saturday’s protests in Paris were the worst to date with stores looted, cars torched and buildings and monuments damaged by some protesters.

The riots have been described as the “worst in a generation” and “pre-revolutionary.” Three people have reportedly died as a result of the unrest, hundreds have been injured and hundreds arrested.

Analysts had already said that Macron faced a stark choice of either watering down his controversial carbon tax or potentially facing more trouble.

“The government’s inability to respond to the demonstrations to date is explained mostly by the sui generis character of the yellow vest movement. Having organized themselves over the internet, the protesters lack formal structures of leadership,” Antonio Barroso, deputy director of research at Teneo Intelligence, said in a note Monday.

“This makes it especially difficult for the government to establish a dialogue with them. Moreover, while the movement emerged in reaction to the proposed increases in diesel and petrol taxes, the protesters’ agenda is much wider,” he said, with complaints ranging from dissatisfaction over the fall in purchasing power in recent years and Macron’s policies, which they claim benefit the wealthiest.

“As a result, the government’s space to meet their demands is rather limited,” Barroso noted.

Macron’s approval ratings continue to fall, along with those of his prime minister. Now Macron’s approval rating stands at just 23 percent, down six points from the previous month, according to an Ifop-Fiducial poll for Paris Match and Sud Radio published Tuesday. Philippe’s rating has fallen 10 points to 26 percent.

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