French protest against high fuel taxes

A man protesting against higher fuel taxes in France yesterday. Those taking part in the "yellow vest" blockade caused logjams on highways and blocked roundabouts as they railed against the tax hikes introduced by President Emmanuel Macron.
A man protesting against higher fuel taxes in France yesterday. Those taking part in the "yellow vest" blockade caused logjams on highways and blocked roundabouts as they railed against the tax hikes introduced by President Emmanuel Macron.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

PARIS • A motorist accidentally hit and killed a protester taking part in a campaign of road blockades across France yesterday, as thousands gathered on motorways in a backlash against higher fuel taxes.

The demonstrators, part of a grassroots movement dubbed the "yellow vest" blockade, caused logjams on highways and blocked roundabouts as they railed against the fuel tax hikes introduced by President Emmanuel Macron.

The protests, largely orchestrated on social media and which aimed to prevent road access to some fuel depots and airports, have also drawn broader support from some voters dissatisfied with Mr Macron's economic reforms.

At a blockade on a road in the south-eastern department of Savoie, a driver panicked when protesters surrounded her car and she accelerated, hitting and killing a woman demonstrator, Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said in televised comments.

Sixteen people had light injuries in other accidents across the country, while a person run over by a car in the north was in a critical state, according to the interior ministry.

Some incidents occurred as drivers not taking part tried to get around the blockades, police sources said.

More than 2,000 rallies were taking place across the country, gathering about 124,000 protesters, according to Mr Castaner's second assessment, at midday yesterday.

Protesters gathered at sensitive flashpoints including the entry to a tunnel under the Mont Blanc mountain in the Alps, and traffic was backed up on several highways.

There were also rallies in cities, including Marseille where about 100 people, wearing the high visibility vests drivers keep in their cars, blocked roads around its port.

The backlash is the latest confrontation between Mr Macron and voters, mostly based in the countryside and provincial towns and cities, who view the former investment banker as the representative of a remote urban elite.

During his 18 months in power, Mr Macron, 40, has often pushed through reforms, including an overhaul of indebted state rail operator SNCF, in the face of opposition from labour unions.

But the "yellow vest" movement has snowballed swiftly over the past month, catching Mr Macron and even opposition parties off guard.

It has already prompted a rare concession from the government, which announced earlier in the month fresh funds to help motorists on the lowest incomes.

Taxes account for about 60 per cent of the price at the pump in France.

The higher fuel taxes were approved late last year but started to bite as oil prices surged in October, even though they have since eased off somewhat.

France is trying to end its addiction to diesel. The diesel tax increases are designed to encourage drivers to switch to more environmentally-friendly cars.

REUTERS, BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 18, 2018, with the headline 'French protest against high fuel taxes'. Print Edition | Subscribe