France Mulls Response to Protests as Students Blockade Schools

(Bloomberg) -- French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe met with opposition leaders Monday to discuss the increasingly intense and violent Yellow Vest protests as students blocked schools across the country in a new twist to the unrest.

Philippe is due to unveil measures to address the situation on Wednesday at the National Assembly, Agence France-Presse reported. Before that, he is scheduled to meet Tuesday with representatives of the Yellow Vest movement.

“If nothing is done by the prime minister by next weekend, there will be desperation and rage," one of the representatives, 42-year-old taxi driver David Tann, told France Inter radio. "If my voice isn’t heard, nothing is possible anymore.” Tann wants a higher minimum wage and higher taxes on big companies.

Over 100 high schools were blockaded across the country and students clashed with police in cities including Bordeaux and Limoges as they protested the government’s education reform. While the teenagers’ protest isn’t directly linked to the Yellow Vest movement, it adds to a broader sense of a country turning against President Emmanuel Macron.

Hotel and restaurant groups have warned the government of the impact on their businesses and on the image of the country abroad. Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo said repairing the damage from Saturday’s protest will cost the city up to 4 million euros ($5 million).

The government is considering suspending another gasoline-tax increase planned for January, but no decision has been made at this point, according to Gilles Le Gendre, head of Macron’s majority Republic On The Move party in the National Assembly.

“Let’s not go faster than the music. At this stage no decision has been made, the consultations must end first,” he said on BFM Television. Green party chief David Cormand left the premier’s office saying Philippe has pledged to “make concessions” but didn’t provide more details.

Laurent Wauquiez, head of the main opposition party, the Republicans, met Philippe earlier Monday. He demanded that Macron, silent since he flew back Sunday from a G-20 summit in Buenos Aires, speaks up. Nationalist leader Marine Le Pen said the prime minister was "a puppet” and wouldn’t offer any solutions. She said the violence roiling France was “a consequence of the anger.”

For Socialist party executive Patrick Kanner, the prime minister’s meetings with opposition and with unions and protesters “come very late."

"What was a social crisis is now also a political crisis," he told France Info radio. "At this point suspending the gasoline tax increase would be just the minimum to appease the situation.”

The New Anti-Capitalist Movement has called for a national day of strike and for the Yellow Vests to join forces with unions and parties “to block” the economy and the institutions. As unions have for most stood clear of the Yellow Vests protests, the CGT labor union called for a protest day on Dec. 14.

Oil deposits and roads were still blocked in some parts of France, mainly in the west, leading to shortages in some gas stations.

European Commission Chief Jean-Claude Juncker’s planned visit to Paris on Dec. 4 has been postponed until a later date, according to his office. Juncker was to have spoken to the National Assembly and have a working dinner with Macron. The commission says the trip was was canceled “so that tomorrow’s parliamentary assembly can be devoted to topical issues in France.” Juncker will speak to National Assembly President Richard Ferrand by phone.

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