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French president to unveil long-awaited response to 'yellow vest' complaints

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French president to unveil long-awaited response to 'yellow vest' complaints
A protester holds up a banner reading 'Macron, we expect nothing from your announcement'. Photo: AFP
07:51 CEST+02:00
France's government will today lay out its response to the grievances highlighted by the 'yellow vests' over months of protests.

President Emmanuel Macron will give a speech on Monday evening setting out the "first concrete measures" to be taken in response to the grievances aired at over 10,000 townhall-style meetings between January and March or posted online, the presidency told AFP.

One of Macron's aides told AFP that the country could look forward to "a new act" in his nearly-two-year-old presidency, marked by "profound changes" aimed at drawing the line under five months of often violent anti-government protests.

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President Macron is expected to unveil a series of 'concrete measures' in response to yellow vest protests. Photo: AFP

The task of trying to satisfy the many, sometimes competing demands emanating from the "Grand National Debate" will be a tricky one for the 41-year-old leader, whose reform drive was abruptly knocked off course by the yellow vests.

Summing up the weight of anticipation on Macron's shoulders Senate leader Gerard Larcher, a member of the opposition Republicans, told Le Figaro newspaper on Saturday: "He won't get a second chance."

The yellow vest movement, so called for the fluorescent jackets worn by demonstrators, began in rural and small-town France over fuel taxes and quickly snowballed into a broader anti-capitalist, anti-establishment rebellion.

In January, Macron launched a series of debates to try to take the heat out of the protests.

Between January 15 and March 15, nearly 500,000 people took part in 10,134 meetings in community halls across the country, with hundreds of thousands more filling out questionnaires or offering up unprompted suggestions on the official debate website.

Macron, who criss-crossed the country to engage local mayors and residents in marathon discussions, promised the French at the outset of the process to "transform anger into solutions" afterwards.

But as they returned to the streets of Paris and other cities Saturday for their 22nd straight week of protests, many yellow vests dismissed whatever he had to offer.

"Great National Debate, great blah blah," and "Macron, we expect nothing from your announcements" read some of the banners waved by protestors in Paris.

Interior ministry figures put the number of demonstrators at 31,000 on Saturday, a far cry from the 282,000 that took part in the first edition, but up from 22,300 a week before.

Former investment banker Macron was caught off guard when many first-time protesters began occupying roundabouts in mid-November to protest policies widely seen as tilted towards the rich and big business.

Admitting to failures, he unveiled a €10 billion package of tax cuts and income top-ups for the working poor and pensioners and travelled into the rural heartland to try to reconnect with voters.

But most yellow vests boycotted the consultations, accusing Macron of prejudging the outcome by taking their top demands -- including the return of a popular "solidarity tax" on the rich which he cut and citizen-sponsored referendums -- off the table from the outset.

Young people also were markedly absent from the process.

Warming up for Macron this week, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe declared nonetheless that France had spoken.

The debate, he said, had shown up "enormous exasperation" over the country's tax burden, the highest in the world, according to the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, with taxes equivalent to 46.2 percent of gross domestic product (GDP).

 
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