French National Assembly approves ‘yellow vest’ tax cuts

The number of people who have been killed during the “yellow vest” protests since they began in early November rose to nine on Thursday. (Reuters)
Updated 21 December 2018
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French National Assembly approves ‘yellow vest’ tax cuts

  • The tax cuts for low-income workers were put forward by Macron in a televised address earlier this month
  • Economists estimate the cuts will cost up to 15 billion euros ($17 billion)

PARIS: The French National Assembly on Friday approved a package of emergency concessions first announced by President Emmanuel Macron in a bid to end the violent “yellow vest” protests.
The tax cuts for low-income workers were put forward by Macron in a televised address earlier this month to help cool weeks of protests that brought major disruption to the country.
The measures provide a “quick, strong and concrete response” to the crisis, said the labor minister Muriel Penicaud in a debate which lasted into the early hours of Friday morning.
The measures include the removal of a planned tax increase for a majority of pensioners and tax-free overtime pay for all workers.
Economists estimate the cuts will cost up to 15 billion euros ($17 billion).
The concessions will now move to the Senate for approval.
Tens of thousands of people joined rallies across France on consecutive Saturdays in a movement which sprung up over fuel tax hikes but snowballed into broader opposition to Macron.
Police this week said they would start removing barricades at roundabouts and on motorways after the demonstrations began to run out of steam.
The protests, which at times spiralled into violence, took a toll on the economy, with businesses counting the cost of supply disruptions, smashed property and a dearth of shoppers and tourists who stayed away from city centers.
On Thursday the president told critics of the fuel tax hikes “you’re right” after 1.15 million people signed a petition suggesting several other ways to fight fossil fuel pollution.
Macron called the petition a “citizens’ act.”
“Your message, I heard it. I am responding to you directly, you are right,” Macron wrote on the website Change.org.
He reminded the petition signers that his government has canceled the planned increase in fuel tax and that no hikes in gas and electricity prices would be made during the winter.
While restating that reducing fossil fuels which contribute to climate change was a necessary action, Macron added that it “must not put the problems of the end of the world in opposition to the problems at the end of the month” — alluding to the anger of the “yellow vest” protest movement about the cost of living in France and the difficulty in making ends meet.
The number of people who have been killed during the “yellow vest” protests since they began in early November rose to nine on Thursday after a 60-year-old man was hit by a lorry at a demonstration next to a motorway near Agen in southwestern France.


US urges coalitions against Iran’s ‘malign meddling’

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the US is committed to helping the Middle East be secure and stable. (AFP)
Updated 23 January 2019
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US urges coalitions against Iran’s ‘malign meddling’

  • Iran is threat to regional stability, Pompeo tells WEF
  • Pompeo also expressed optimism about an end to the conflict in Yemen

DAVOS: The US wants to build more coalitions in the Middle East to counter the “very real” threat of Iran’s malign meddling in the region, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told the World Economic Forum in Davos on Tuesday.

Speaking via video link, Pompeo said the US was committed to a “secure and stable” Middle East and had assembled a “global coalition of nations to confront Iran and support the aspirations of the Iranian people.”

Pompeo said: “America is committed to helping the Middle East be secure and stable. We are a force for good in the region, and we have been for an awfully long time.”

He said the biggest threat to regional stability was Iran, especially in crisis zones such as Yemen, Syria and Iraq, and in its support for Hezbollah in Lebanon.

“Those are places where Iran is truly the malign actor, and that is why we are so happy with the coalition we have built,” he said.

“It is so central to creating the stability the people of the Middle East so richly deserve.

“There are political and diplomatic solutions to all of these problems, and we need all our diplomats, from all across the region, working to solve them.”

Pompeo also expressed optimism about an end to the conflict in Yemen, where a Saudi-led military coalition is supporting the legitimate government against Iran-backed Houthi militias.

 “I am very hopeful we can make progress there,” he said. “We made a big step forward with the agreement surrounding the port of Hodeidah; we got real commitment from all the parties. 

“It was most unfortunate that the Houthis made a major break on Jan. 10 to that cease-fire by using an Iranian-designed instrument of war to kill people after those agreements were reached back in December.

“I know that the Gulf states are committed to achieving that outcome; we are committed here in the United States.”

Pompeo also spoke briefly about peace between Israel and Palestine, and said talks would not be “driven by the US” but by the Israelis and Palestinians themselves.

Globally, Pompeo praised a wave of “disruption” in world politics, including the election of Donald Trump, the UK vote to leave the European Union and elections in France and Malaysia.

He renewed Trump’s criticism of international institutions and the US president’s calls for “strong borders” to protect national sovereignty. “New winds are blowing across the world,” he said. “I’d argue that this disruption is a positive development.”

Pompeo acknowledged that Trump’s criticism of international institutions had ruffled feathers. “Sometimes leadership and asking hard questions drives others to be a little concerned. Perhaps they’re not quite ready to stare these problems in the face. But we are — President Trump is.”