French minister booed out of island port by fuel tax protesters

Minister Annick Girardin (in black shirt) slipped under the demonstrators on the island of Réunion to hear their demands. (AFP pic)

REUNION: France’s minister for overseas territories, Annick Girardin, was forced to cut short a meeting with fuel tax demonstrators on the French island of Reunion Friday after being booed by protesters shouting “Macron, resign!”

The Indian Ocean island of around 800,000 people has been brought to a standstill by demonstrations over rising fuel prices that have snowballed into wider protests across rural France over economic hardship.

President Emmanuel Macron’s government has announced several measures to try end the unrest, which triggered riots on the famous Champs-Elysees avenue in Paris last weekend.

But the president’s refusal to back down on a planned increase in anti-pollution taxes on fuel set to take effect in January has hardened the resolve of many protesters, particularly in Reunion, one of the poorest parts of France.

Girardin travelled to Reunion on Wednesday to meet with some of the demonstrators who have blocked roads across the island over the past two weeks, crippling the local economy.

On Friday, she was forced to break off a visit to a port in the west of the island after being booed by an angry crowd.

On the mainland, the government is bracing for further possible rioting when demonstrators return to the Champs-Elysees on Saturday to press their demands, which include a moratorium on fuel tax increases, an increase in the minimum wage and a national housing insulation plan.

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe was on Friday to meet with representatives of the so-called “yellow vests”, who are not aligned to any political party or trade union.

But the meeting looked unlikely to produce a breakthrough.

Macron has steadfastly refused to back down on his anti-pollution taxes, part of his effort to green the economy.

On Friday, he again said he understood “the legitimate anger, the impatience and the suffering of some people” and called for more time to organise consultations on how to transform France into a low-carbon economy without penalising the poor.

But he also warned that any measures announced “in the coming weeks and months” would “never be a retreat”.