Paris Tries to Put Brakes on Diesel Protests

The French government on Wednesday attempted to head off planned protests over rising fuel costs by announcing a series of measures to help poorer families pay their bills.

A surge in the price of diesel has provoked an uproar in rural and small-town France, with citizens' groups threatening to block roads and highways on Saturday over what they call President Emmanuel Macron's anti-car policies.

The "yellow vest" movement, as it has been called after the high-visibility jackets worn by protesters, is the latest to rattle Macron's centrist government.

Around 600 protests are planned around the country on Saturday.

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe on Wednesday ruled out a U-turn on higher taxes on diesel in the push for cleaner cars and fuel, but promised to do more to help poor families shoulder the cost.

"We have heard the need of the French to be assisted in the (ecological) transition, which is difficult," he said.

With the rising cost of living emerging as one of the biggest challenges of Macron's presidency, Philippe announced that 5.6 million households would receive energy subsidies, up from 3.6 million currently.

The state will also double the scrappage bonus on polluting vehicles for France's poorest families, expand the scheme to target one million motorists in total over five years and introduce fuel tax credits for those who use their cars a lot for work.

The measures appeared unlikely however to appease the "angry vests", who have capitalised on frustration with Macron's policies, seen as favouring high-earners voters in cities over the rural population.

- 'Fed up' -

Tax on diesel has risen around 23 percent over the past 12 months, compared with 15 percent for standard fuel.

At an average of 1.51 euros per litre, diesel is more costly than at any point since the early 2000s.

During a tour of the provinces last week to try reconnect with rural voters, Macron -- whose approval ratings have sunk to under 30 percent -- was repeatedly harangued over fuel prices.

Opposition parties from both the left and the right have sought to tap into the discontent. Macron's government is also taking heat from environmentalists, who accuse it of not doing enough to live up to his promise to "Make Our Planet Great Again", as well as from pensioners hit by tax hikes.

Laurent Wauquiez, leader of the main opposition Republicans party, on Wednesday called on the government to cancel January's increase in the carbon tax to offset the spike in petrol and diesel prices caused by rising oil prices.

"This government is going to take 15 billion euros from French pockets and the prime minister this morning talks of handing 500 million back, that's not even three percent," Wauquiez, a conservative, said on BFMTV.

Eric Coquerel, a law-maker from the radical left France Unbowed, said the French were "not just mobilising because of petrol prices.

"They are fed up," he declared.

Source: Agence France Presse

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