French President Emmanuel Macron overturned fuel tax hikes in an effort to appease the protest movement that wreaked havoc in Paris over the past two weeks, local media reported on Tuesday.
Prime Minister Edouard Philippe announced a six-month suspension of a tax which was set to start on January 1, backtracking from the government’s warnings that it would not give in to the street violence staged by the "gilet jaunes" ("yellow vests") movement.
"We live in a delicate moment," Mr Philippe said. "We all must succeed collectively."
Mr Philippe also announced a freeze on three planned fiscal measures – the increase in electricity prices starting in May 2019, tax hikes on off-road diesel fuel and the convergence between diesel and gas – to ease tensions.
The announcement came as negotiators from 197 countries start the two-week COP24 climate summit in Poland that seeks to ensure countries respect commitments made in Paris in 2015.
Tax hikes introduced by Mr Macron were part of the president’s effort to cut carbon emissions by 40 per cent by 2030 and boost clean energy, in line with the agreement. Mr Philippe did not attend the summit as he attempted to deal with his country's worst urban violence in more than a decade.
A meeting between Mr Philippe and protesters scheduled for Tuesday was cancelled after the "gilet jaunes" pulled out. Some of its members received death threats from hardliners within the group opposed to the idea of negotiating with the government.
The “gilet jaunes” have expressed discontent with the measures taken by the government and have called for the repeal – rather than the suspension – of the tax proposals. Benjamin Cauchy, one of the leaders of the protests, said that the suspension is "a first step, but we will not settle for a crumb".
Eric Drouet, a representative of the movement, told the French press agency AFP that the announcement was “not at all what we were expecting.”
He called on protesters to gather at the Arc de Triomphe on Saturday and to continue the protests. “People are more and more motivated, we are organized and we will be even more numerous,” he said.
Republican representative Bruno Retailleau said the suspension was “totally insufficient” and called for the tax to be repealed, French media reported. Marine Le Pen, the leader of the far-right National Rally, called for new elections, saying that dissolving parliament would be the only honourable way to exit the crisis.
Ms Le Pen also warned that Mr Macron could become the first French president to give the order to open fire on his own people in 50 years.
Four people have died since the unrest began, including an 80-year-old woman who was hit by a teargas canister while in her apartment.
Protesters also damaged several historic landmarks, including smashing some statues at the Arc de Triomphe. The statue of the Marianne – the symbol of the French republic at the entrance of the Arc de Triomphe – was smashed during Saturday’s protests.
The vandalism of one of France’s most revered monuments has left the public in shock and alienated some public sympathy from the movement.