Europe

Humble Macron raises minimum wage in bid to end 'yellow vest' riots

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Embattled French President Emmanuel Macron has offered fresh concessions to try end the "yellow vest" protests that have shaken the country and taken a heavy toll on its economy.

French President Emmanuel Macron has announced a 100-euro ($AUS157) per month increase in the minimum wage as of next year.

In a televised speech made in a bid to bring an end to the "yellow vest" protests which have rocked the country, Macron said firms would not have to foot the bill for the increase.

Macron addressed the nation, after three weeks of anti-government demonstrations which again turned violent Saturday in Paris and other cities. 

In an address to the nation, the 40-year-old former investment banker also struck a more humble tone than usual as he sought to address criticism of his style of leadership.

"I know that I have hurt some of you with my statements," he said.

He stressed, however, that the protests by mostly low-income people in small town or rural France were the result of long-term problems.

TV screens show French President Emmanuel Macron during a televised address to the nation.
TV screens show French President Emmanuel Macron during a televised address to the nation.
AP

"Their distress doesn't date from yesterday. We have ended up getting used to it," he said.

"These are forty years of malaise that have come to the surface," he added.

With the protesters vowing to remain at the barricades until their demands are met, Macron's first public remarks on the crisis in over a week are being billed as the most important of his presidency.

Yellow vests protesters are listening french president Emmanuel Macron speaking during a special address to the nation.
Yellow vests protesters are listening french president Emmanuel Macron speaking during a special address to the nation.
AAP

On Monday, he held four hours of crisis talks at the presidential palace with government ministers, parliamentary leaders, business and labour representatives and regional officials.

"No measure was announced, the president just listened to us. What we heard is that we can look forward to something concrete and solid", Herve Morin, head of an association of French regions, said on leaving the meeting.

Richard Ferrand, the head of the National Assembly and one of Macron's closest allies, said the president would "give us some short-term answers along with his views on how to rebuild a new French model".

Le Parisien newspaper hailed the speech as Macron's "moment of truth" on its cover Monday, warning that if he failed to appease the anger, "France will enter a dangerous period of political instability".

President Macron speaks during his special address to the nation.
President Macron speaks during his special address to the nation.
PA

Elected in May 2017 on a promise to revitalise the sluggish French economy, Macronhad voted not to be swayed by street protests.

In an attempt to quell the revolt, the government agreed last week to cancel a planned increase in anti-pollution fuel taxes - the spark behind the protests in car-dependent rural and suburban France.

A car burns while demonstrators watch on in Paris.
Macron to give speech amid more protests
AAP

But the move was seen as too little, too late by the protesters, who held a fourth round of protests on Saturday to press for further concessions on reducing inequality.

The month-long campaign of nationwide road blockades and weekend protests in Paris, three of which degenerated into destruction and looting, have taken a toll on the French economy.

The central bank on Monday halved its fourth-quarter growth forecast to just 0.2 percent from 0.4 percent -- far below the 0.8 percent growth needed to meet the government's full-year target of 1.7 percent. 

"We can't recover this," Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said on RTL radio Monday

Government officials said Macron will announce "immediate and concrete measures" in a bid to defuse the situation.

Riot police launched volleys of tear gas canisters yesterday when facing rioters.
Riot police launched volleys of tear gas canisters yesterday when facing rioters.
EPA

Le Maire said that he was in favour of accelerating tax cuts -- one of the demands of the working- and middle classes protesters.

The "yellow vests" - named after the luminous safety jackets they wear - began slowing or blocking traffic on roads around the country on November 17 in protest over rising fuel prices they blamed on government taxes.

The demonstrations have since snowballed, leading to calls to topple Macron, whom the protesters accuse of favouring the rich.

Looting and rioting, blamed mostly on far-left and far-right agitators, has repeatedly broken out in Paris, spreading to Bordeaux, Toulouse, and other cities at the weekend. 

Nationwide, an estimated 136,000 people turned out for protests - the same number as a week previously.

French police arrest a man during a Yellow Vests demonstration in Paris
French police arrest a man during a Yellow Vests demonstration in Paris.
AAP

Some 1,000 people were detained in a massive security operation to prevent a repeat of the chaos seen in Paris on December 1, though most were released by the day's end.

Protests continue

On Monday, protests continued up and down the country, including near Vichy, central France, where a tax office was padlocked by "yellow vests" who also stopped trucks going in and out of a L'Oreal cosmetics factory.

High school students also continued to demonstrate in and around their schools, forcing 40 of them to close.

The students have latched on to the "yellow vest" movement to protest educational reforms, along with plans by Macron to reintroduce a month-long "national service" for young people aged 16 or 17.

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