France backs down on raising fuel taxes in 2019

Paris CNN  — 

French President Emmanuel Macron backed down again Wednesday in the face of nationwide protests against his government, with a spokeswoman for his office saying planned fuel tax increases will not be introduced in 2019.

His Prime Minister, Edouard Philippe, announced a day earlier that the tax hike would be delayed by six months, from January 1 to midyear, so this pushes the tax increase that sparked protests back at least another six months.

The rising cost of gasoline and diesel fuel sparked protests that have since evolved into broader demonstrations against Macron’s government, exposing tensions between the metropolitan elite and rural poor.

The protesters, known as the “gilets jaunes,” take their name from the high-visibility yellow vests that drivers are required to keep in their vehicles for safety reasons.

Macron had asked political leaders to meet the protest organizers this week. However, two protesters who claim to lead the group, Benjamin Cauchy and Jacqueline Moreau, have pulled out of a meeting with Prime Minister Philippe planned for Tuesday, according to the movement’s spokesman, Maxime Nicole.

Philippe canceled a trip to the COP24 climate conference in Poland to address the issue, which had threatened to flare again this coming weekend.

The government is likely hoping the suspension of the fuel hikes will take some heat out of the protests, which brought an estimated 36,000 people onto the streets of France on Saturday alone.

"Gilets jaunes" protesters at the Champs Elysees in Paris on Saturday

Around 400 people were arrested after a violent minority turned on police, throwing projectiles and vandalizing statues.

Paris prosecutor Remy Heitz said that among the protesters were people from across the country who had descended upon Paris with the express intent of causing trouble.

He added that authorities would crack down hardest on those who had joined the street demonstrations explicitly to carry out violent acts.

The cost of diesel has surged 16% this year from an average €1.24 ($1.41) per liter to €1.48 ($1.69), even hitting €1.53 ($1.74) in October, according to UFIP, France’s oil industry federation.

CNN’s Saskya Vandoorne reported from Paris, Euan McKirdy wrote from Hong Kong and Angela Dewan and Bianca Britton contributed from London. Steve Almasy contributed from Atlanta.