French island rocked by cost-of-living protests

The unrest is the worst violence on La Reunion in nearly 30 years. (AFP)
Updated 21 November 2018
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French island rocked by cost-of-living protests

  • Five days of protests over rising living costs on the French Indian Ocean island of La Reunion
  • For several nights running, youths armed with petrol bombs and stones have clashed with police

SAINT-DENIS, Reunion: Thirty police officers have been injured in five days of protests over rising living costs on the French Indian Ocean island of La Reunion, the government in Paris said Wednesday.
The “yellow vest” movement, which brought hundreds of thousands of people onto French streets last weekend to protest environmental taxes on fuel, has plunged La Reunion into its worst bout of violence in nearly 30 years.
Roads across the volcanic island of 850,000 people off southeast Africa remained blocked Wednesday by demonstrators, causing petrol stations to run low on fuel, and schools were closed for fear of violence.
The protest movement, triggered by a 23-percent rise in the price of diesel in the past year, has come to encompass broader grievances about the rising cost of essentials and a rollback in public services in small-town and rural France.
For several nights running, youths armed with petrol bombs and stones have clashed with police, leaving 30 officers injured so far, government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux said.
One officer lost his hand after a grenade accidentally went off in his car as it was being stoned by demonstrators, the authorities said.
There was no figure available for the number of injured among the demonstrators.
Across France, two people have died and over 500 have been injured since protesters began erecting barricades on roads across the country on Saturday to try to force the government to cancel planned tax hikes on fuel.
On the mainland, the protests had begun to fizzle Wednesday but in La Reunion the situation remained tense, despite the government agreeing to freeze anti-pollution taxes on fuel on the island for three years.
Griveaux blamed the violence on “gangs of youths” using the cover of the protests to “loot, sack and destroy” property and announced that police reinforcements were being sent from Paris.
In mainland France, businesses are also feeling the pinch after five days of unrest.
A PSA Peugeot-Citroen factory in the eastern French town of Sochaux suspended production Wednesday because supply trucks carrying parts from Spain had been unable to get past one of the few remaining roadblocks.
Macron, who has vowed to stay his course despite plummeting poll ratings, on Wednesday threatened “severe” action against protesters who breach the peace, endanger motorists’ lives or intimidate opponents.


UK firms step up preparations for a ‘no-deal’ Brexit as PM Theresa May meets with EU leaders

Updated 58 min 15 sec ago
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UK firms step up preparations for a ‘no-deal’ Brexit as PM Theresa May meets with EU leaders

  • May is meeting EU leaders in Brussels on Thursday in attempt to get support for Brexit delay
  • The Bank of England warned in November that the British economy could shrink by a massive 8 percent

LONDON: UK companies have ratcheted up their preparations for a disorderly “no-deal” Brexit as best they can over the past couple of months, the Bank of England said on Thursday.
With the prospect of a chaotic Brexit potentially eight days away, a survey by the central bank’s agents showed that around 80 percent of companies “judged themselves ready” for such a scenario, in which the country crashes out of the European Union with no deal and no transition to new trading arrangements with the bloc. That’s up from around 50 percent in an equivalent survey in January.
For decades, trading with the rest of the EU has been seamless. A disorderly Brexit could see the return of tariffs and other restrictions on trade with the EU, Britain’s main export destination.
To prepare, some firms have moved jobs and operations to the EU to continue to benefit from its seamless trade. Many have had to learn how to file customs declarations and adjust labels on goods. Exporters of animals are learning about health checks they will need to comply with.
According to the bank’s survey, however, many of those companies preparing for a “no-deal” Brexit said “there were limits to the degree of readiness that was feasible in the face of the range of possible outcomes in that scenario.”
There’s only so much companies can do, for example, to prepare for new tariffs and exchange rate movements.

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Britain appears headed for a “no-deal” Brexit on March 29 if Prime Minister Theresa May fails to win parliamentary support for her withdrawal agreement with the EU.
She is meeting EU leaders in Brussels on Thursday in an attempt to get support for a delay to the country’s departure date to June 30. EU leaders have said a short extension would have to be conditional on her Brexit plan getting parliamentary backing and have indicated they would only be willing to back a delay to May 22, the day before elections to the European Parliament. After two heavy rejections in parliament, there are doubts as to whether she will be able to get parliamentary approval. What would happen next is uncertain.
European leaders, including those from France and Luxembourg, have said any extension will be granted dependent on May's deal passing a third parliamentary vote.
The Bank of England warned in November that the British economy could shrink by a massive 8 percent within months, though Governor Mark Carney has indicated the recession will be less savage, partly because of heightened preparedness.
According to the minutes of the latest meeting of the bank’s nine-member Monetary Policy Committee, at which the main interest rate was kept at 0.75 percent, rate-setters warned “Brexit uncertainties would continue to affect economic activity looking ahead, most notably business investment.”
Brexit uncertainty has dogged the British economy for nearly three years. In 2018, the economy grew by 1.4 percent, its lowest rate since 2012, even during what was then a global upswing. Business investment was down 3.7 percent in the fourth quarter from the year before.
“Business investment had now fallen in each of the past four quarters as uncertainties relating to Brexit had intensified,” the rate-setters said.
The survey showed uncertainty was likely to remain for months, even years, as Britain works out its long-term relationship with the EU. It said around 60 percent of UK firms in February said Brexit was one of their top three uncertainties, compared with 40 percent just after the June 2016 Brexit referendum.
Around 40 percent of firms expect the uncertainty to be resolved only by the end of 2019 and 20 percent anticipate it persisting into 2021 or beyond.