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Public Support For French Anti-Carbon Tax Protest Movement Remains High

The Times

Public support for the protest movement has not dropped since the Saturday riots in Paris and violence elsewhere in the country, a poll showed today. Support for the movement was voiced by 72 per cent, unchanged for the past fortnight, according to the Harris Interactive poll. Ninety per cent of the French believe that the government has handled the protest movement poorly.

The French government promised measures to defuse a national revolt over fuel tax as judges began trying dozens of protesters who were arrested in riots in Paris over the weekend.

Édouard Philippe, the prime minister, is expected to announce new actions on Wednesday after meeting political leaders and holding talks with representatives of the “yellow vests”, the grassroots movement that has shaken President Macron’s administration since it emerged from the provinces in October.

First to visit Mr Philippe was Anne Hidalgo, the Socialist mayor of Paris, who voiced anger over the destruction wrought on Saturday in “the worst disorder in the capital since May 1968”. She demanded stronger policing, but urged the government to produce “political and social solutions to a major crisis”. The devastation in some of the most opulent streets and the desecration of the Arc de Triomphe monument were highly damaging to the city and its traders in the run-up to Christmas, the mayor said.

Valérie Pécresse, the president of the greater Paris region, urged the government to outlaw any demonstrations in Paris next Saturday after members of the yellow vests said they would return to the city.

The government is struggling to identify leaders who can speak for a movement that grew from social media calls for a spontaneous uprising. An attempt to identify spokesmen failed last week, but a group of about 15 emerged from around the country over the weekend. They produced a list of demands, including cuts in fuel taxes, a rise in the minimum wage and referenda.

Extra judges and court personnel were brought in for the immediate prosecution of 139 people — out of 378 — who have been detained since Saturday. They were mainly men who were wearing the gilet jaune, the high-vis jackets that symbolise the protest movement, when they were arrested in the riots.

Prosecutors said that the most violent troublemakers, several dozen leftwing anarchists, were more practised at avoiding arrest than the hundreds of yellow jacket protesters who converged from the regions to protest. “Some of those arrested were there to fight police, some to smash things up and others to pillage,” said Alexandra Onfray, a Paris prosecutor.

Mr Macron is under heavy pressure from the conservative Republicans opposition and the Socialist left to make a big gesture to appease the anger of a protest movement that enjoys the sympathy of 80 per cent of the public. The president has acknowledged that the movement has genuine grievances over crushing taxes that erode meagre pay packets. So far, though, he has refused to give ground on the protesters’ core demand — to scrap a new rise in diesel fuel taxes next month. Last week he angered the gilets jaunes when he responded to the revolt with a promise to hold three months of consultations in the regions between officials and protesters.

Politicians entered emergency talks in Paris with an eye-catching document headed "draft law to get out of the crisis"
Politicians entered emergency talks in Paris with an eye-catching document headed “draft law to get out of the crisis”STEPHANE MAHE/REUTERS

While Mr Macron remained silent today, Bruno Le Maire, the finance minister, said that the protest movement was “the consequence of a democratic crisis with deep roots”. For three decades French governments had allowed inequality to widen as industry declined. “This crisis is above all the result of upheaval in the regions which has deepened over the years,” he said.

The government must speed up its planned tax cuts and also cut public spending, he said.

Mr Macron took office last year promising to do both, but he sparked anger and incomprehension by moving quickly to dismantle a tax on wealth while initially raising levies that affect the whole population.

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