French president Macron's address to the nation unlikely to curb protests
Eric FEFERBERG (AFP)
The whole of France fell silent at prime time on Monday night as president Macron, obsequious and humble, made a short televised address.
The president, who has been widely criticized for his invisibility during the last four weeks of protests, announced a string of immediate reforms.
The president announced the government will add 100 euros per month to the minimum wage (currently at close to 1,500 euros), promising employers will not have to foot the bill.
Another reform will see taxes and employers' contribution cancelled for overtime.
He also rolled back a rise in an unpopular tax on retired people on low-income, and encouraged employers to give Christmas bonuses - which would be tax-free.
Defending one of the flashpoints of the demonstrations, he said the abolition of a tax on the very rich would remain, arguing this was an engine for the economy.
The politician, whose approval ratings are at their lowest point, did not mention how these reforms would be funded, or exactly how much they would cost. The prime minister, Edouard Philippe, will present the reforms to the parliament on Tuesday.
The president said he was aware that he needed to answer "40 years of unease".
"I know that I have hurt some of you with my statements," he said.
The portfolio of demands that have come out of the decentralized protests are diverse, and even though these reforms aim to directly shore up the finances of the poorest, they are unlikely to stop the blockades and protests that have captured the country's attention in the past three weeks.
Most "yellow vests" reactions that came out right after the address were negative. "For four weeks, they looked down on us with absolute contempt", said Hayk Shahinyan, a "yellow vest" talking on public television France 2.
"Something has switched in people's minds, something that you don't see in television studios in Paris. The people are ready to take back power", he said, announcing that the protesters will determine a "horizontal" way of running candidates in the next European elections.
Four people have died, and many have been injured in the protests that have entered their fifth week.
Police tanks were deployed in Paris last Saturday in an unprecedented tough response to the violence. 1,723 people were arrested, many preemptively.
Earlier in the week, police forced high school students to kneel with hands on their heads.
The shocking images sprouted ironic responses from both Turkish and Iranian leaders. On Saturday, Turkey's Erdogan criticized the "disproportionate violence", deriding France's concern over the 2013 Gezi Park protests, which killed 22 and injured 8,000.
Although they were sparked by a tax hike on fuel, the protests, which were born and have been amplified by social media, have crystallized a host of demands throughout France, gaining support from more than 75% of the population.
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Does the Democratic Party watch what is happening in France? The US Democrats need to know people don't need higher taxes. France was bankrupt because of the climate accord. Liberals are the slowest learners. French want jobs! The French want to have the means to provide for their families. Liberals don't get it . Most democrats in the US are rich. High taxes don't effect their life style. Macron is eating crow. The savior of France is learning slowly