‘Moment of truth’ for Macron as protests hit French economy

PARIS, French President Emmanuel Macron isexpected to offer fresh concessions Monday to try to end the yellow vest protests that have rocked the country and taken a heavy toll on the economy.

Macron will address the nation at 8:00 pm (1900 GMT) after three weeks of

antigovernment demonstrations which again turned violent Saturday in Paris

and other cities.

The stakes are high for the 40yearold centrist, who has not spoken

publicly about the unrest in over a week, leaving it to his government to try

tamp down the anger much of it aimed at the president himself.

Macron is facing a moment of truth, the Parisien newspaper said in its

leading headline Monday, warning that if he fails to appease the anger,

France will enter a dangerous period of political instability.

On the economic front, the protesters' nationwide campaign of road

blockades, coupled with the looting and vandalism seen during weekend

protests in Paris and other cities, has dealt a heavy blow to the retail and

hospitality sector.

France's central bank on Monday halved its fourthquarter growth forecast

to just 0.2 percent from 0.4 percent far below the 0.8 percent growth

needed to meet the government's fullyear target of 1.7 percent.

We can't recover this, Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said on RTL radio

Monday. That's the reality, for businesses, shop owners whose stores were

damaged, vandalised or looted on Saturday.

Le Maire added that he was in favour of accelerating tax cuts in response

to the protests one of the demands voiced during the past month.

Government officials say Macron will announce immediate and concrete

measures to respond to the grievances, although he is not expected to

rescind his partial repeal of a wealth tax on high earners, a particular

source of protesters' ire.

Riots and arrests

Calls have multiplied across the political spectrum for drastic action,

with former farright presidential rival Marine Le Pen urging Macron to

recognise society's suffering and deliver immediate, very strong responses.

It is clear that we underestimated people's need to make themselves

heard, government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux told Europe 1 radio on Sunday.

Yet Labour Minister Muriel Penicaud rejected the idea of an increase in the

minimum wage another demand from many protesters who say they are barely

scraping by.

If we raise all salaries automatically, many businesses would just go bust

or they would have to raise their prices, and no one would pay for their

services, Penicaud said Sunday.

The yellow vests, clad in the luminous safety jackets carried by law in

all French cars, began slowing or blocking traffic on roads around the

country on November 17 in protest against antipollution fuel tax hikes.

The demonstrations have since snowballed, leading to calls to topple

Macron, whom the protesters accuse of favouring the rich and disparaging

people struggling to make ends meet in rural and smalltown France.

Looting and rioting, blamed mostly on farleft and farright agitators, has

repeatedly broken out in Paris, spreading to Bordeaux, Toulouse, and other

cities at the weekend.

Authorities in Paris said that while the city was spared the mayhem seen a

week earlier the damage covered a wider area, with cars torched, bus shelters

smashed and shops vandalised in several neighbourhoods.

Some 10,000 protesters most of them peaceful took to the streets.

Nationwide, an estimated 136,000 people turned out for protests the same

number as a week previously.

The government launched a massive security operation this time around

however in a bid to minimise the unrest, deploying 8,000 police and armoured

vehicles in Paris and detaining more than 1,000 people nationwide.

Further climbdowns?

Elected in May 2017 on a promise to revitalise the sluggish French

economy, Macron had previously vowed that, unlike his predecessors, he would

not be swayed by mass protests.

But last week his government announced a climbdown on fuel tax increases

for January the spark that had ignited the yellow vest protests and

further concessions appear to be on the cards.

The president is meeting Monday with trade unions and business leaders to

try to find a way out of the deepest crisis yet for the former investment

banker, who has struggled to shake off his reputation as a president of the


He's going to have to (find) a strong response, and he's going to have to

show a lot of empathy, because we're hearing lots of complaints about the

president's personality, Laurent Berger of the CFDT union told LCI

television Monday.

The protesters hail mainly from provincial France but have a range of

different goals from lower taxes, to a higher minimum wage, to Macron's

resignation making his negotiations with them all the more difficult.

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