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Rising fuel prices trigger massive protests in France

By Sheetal Sukhija, Knoxville News
18 Nov 2018, 07:35 GMT+10

PARIS, France - Tens of thousands of French protesters took to the streets on Saturday, blocking motorways and roads across many cities to express their anger over the rising fuel prices.

Fuming at the latest hike in fuel prices after the French President Emmanuel Macron implemented the commitment he made to curb climate change - nearly 250,000 protesters participated in demonstrations.

The protests were organized by a grassroots protest movement dubbed the "yellow vests," that began this summer, after a group of people signed online petitions urging Macron to reconsider the higher carbon taxes for 2018 as part of his climate change commitment.

According to the French Interior Ministry, protesters staged rallies on the streets, blocking motorway slip roads, tunnel entrances and airport access roads, which caused major logjams and several accidents.

The ministry claimed that at about 2,000 locations across the country, a network of drivers coordinated and blocked roads, which caused several traffic problems that lasted for hours and led to backups.

Hours after the protests started, local media reports in France said that a female protesters had been killed while demonstrating in the southeastern Savoie region.

According to reports, the 63-year-old protester, identified as Chantal Mazet, was killed after a panicked driver accidentally accelerated into a crowd of demonstrators.

The driver was reportedly taking her daughter to the hospital, when a group of about 50 demonstrators surrounded and blocked her car, striking the roof of the vehicle.

The police said that the driver was taken into custody in a state of shock after she panicked and drove into the crowd, killing Mazet.

Reports also stated that dozens of demonstrators at rallies across the country were injured, with five protesters being seriously hurt, while a total of 106 others suffered minor injuries in various incidents.

Meanwhile, in another incident that took place in the capital, protesters were repelled with tear gas as they attempted to approach the president's official residence, the Elysee Palace.

In the city centre of Lyon and at the Mont-Blanc mountain in the Alps too, police were forced to use tear gas to push back protesters that blocked key roads.

According to the Interior Ministry, a total of 52 people were arrested through the day.

'The little people abandoned'

Anger over the recent fuel price hike has only added to the already widespread dismay across the country over Macron's economic policies, which have led to his popularity hitting new lows of 21 percent.

Over the last 18 months, the young French President has attempted to reboot the country's economy, but his loosening of labour laws and an overhaul of the state rail operator SNCF have angered powerful trade unions that have staged massive street demonstrations.

He has also suffered severebacklash from the public and his political opponents for measures such as ending the wealth tax, hiking taxes on fuel and tobacco and increasing a social welfare levy.

At Saturday's demonstrations, several protesters called for Macron's resignation his policies that they claim have abandoned "the little people."

Macron, who has been dubbed as the president for the rich" by his political opponents and some in the local media, was also blamed by protesters on Saturday for a perceived squeeze in spending power.

Reports noted on Saturday that French protesters are particularly angry over the rising prices since the price of diesel has risen by around 23 percent over the past 12 months.

The price of diesel, which is the most commonly used fuel in French cars, currently stands at an average of 1.51 euros per litre - which reports noted was the highest the prices have reached since the early 2000s.

Macron has been blamed for raising the hydrocarbon tax this year by 7.6 cents per litre on diesel and 3.9 cents on petrol.

Further, on January 1, 2019, the country's government has decided to impose a further increase of 6.5 cents on diesel and 2.9 cents on petrol.

'Political protest'

The hikes are part of Macron's campaign for cleaner cars and fuel and are aimed at encouraging drivers to switch to more environmentally-friendly cars.

While the President has stood firm on his fuel policy, some ministers announced funds last week, in a bid to help motorists on the lowest incomes.

Earlier this week, Macron commented on the growing anger within the country over rising fuel prices and blamed world oil prices for three-quarters of the price rise.

The President argued that more tax on fossil fuels was needed to fund renewable energy investments but conceded that he had not "really managed to reconcile the French people with their leaders."

Macron has also accused his political opponents of hijacking the 'yellow vests' movement in order to block his reform programme.

Reports pointed out that Macron's top opponent in the presidential election, the far-right leader Marine Le Pen has been encouraging the movement on Twitter and wrote this week, "The government shouldn't be afraid of French people who come to express their revolt and do it in a peaceful fashion."

Meanwhile, the leader of the centre-right Republicans, Laurent Wauquiez has openly described Saturday's action as a "political protest with the Republicans behind it."

He called on the Macron government to scrap the next planned increase in carbon tax on fossil fuels to offset rising vehicle fuel prices.

Further, the leader of the left-wing Socialist Party, Olivier Faure argued that the movement was "born outside political parties" and said, "People want politicians to listen to them and respond. Their demand is to have purchasing power and financial justice."

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