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Paris – President Emmanuel Macron has acknowledged he’s partially responsible for the anger that has fueled weeks of protests in France, an unusual admission for the leader elected last year.

In a televised address to the nation, Macron said: “We probably have not been able for a year-and-a-half to bring quick enough and strong enough responses.”

Macron also acknowledged he may have given an impression “not to care” about the concerns of ordinary citizens and “might have hurt” some people with his comments.  

Macron is perceived by many in France as arrogant, for instance telling an unemployed man he could find a job if he “crosses the street” and advising a retiree not to complain.

Macron is promising to speed up tax relief for struggling workers and to scrap a tax hike for retirees.

The actions were the pledges Macron made on Monday night in his first public comments since protests against his presidency devolved into rioting in the French capital.

The French leader reiterated earlier promises to raise the minimum wage and pledged to abolish taxes on overtime pay starting Jan. 1, several months before schedule.

He also said a tax hike pensioners faced would be scrapped.

All of the measures offered had been demanded by the yellow-vested protesters who have led four weeks of increasingly radicalized demonstrations against Macron’s presidency, seen as favoring the rich.

Macron met Monday morning in his presidential palace with local and national politicians, unions and business leaders to hear their concerns. 

 

The morning meeting stretched past lunch and into the afternoon. A presidential official said there were 37 people around the table with the president, describing how the movement is impacting their sectors, including unions, small businesses and local government.

Among steps the government is considering are abolishing taxes on overtime, speeding up tax cuts and an end-of-year bonus for low-income workers. Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said Monday the government could delay some payroll taxes, but expressed resistance to restoring the wealth tax or lowering taxes for retirees, among protesters’ demands. He stressed that the measures should focus on helping the working classes.

“We are ready to make any gesture” that works, he said on RTL radio. “What is important now is to put an end to the crisis and find peace and unity in the country again.”

Fallout from the protests so far could cost France 0.1 percent of gross domestic product in the last quarter of the year, Le Maire warned. “That means fewer jobs, it means less prosperity for the whole country,” he said.

The “yellow vest” protests began as a movement against a rise in fuel taxes that Macron eventually abandoned, but have mushroomed to include a plethora of sometimes contradictory demands – increasingly including Macron’s resignation.

“Macron is there for the rich, not for all the French,” 68-year-old retiree Jean-Pierre Meunuer said at Saturday’s protests in Paris.

Some members of the movement are already planning new action next Saturday, amid calls from police officers exhausted by four weekends of rioting for the payment of overtime work instead of bonuses.

“The State should commit itself to the payment of overtime,” the UNSA police union said in a statement on Monday. “These extra hours should be exempted from tax. Night hours should be revalued. UNSA police officials will listen carefully to the president’s announcements.”

Graffiti throughout the French capital singles Macron out for criticism, reflecting a national sense that the 40-year-old centrist former banker is arrogant and out of touch. Macron however has appeared determined to continue his course, and no presidential or parliamentary elections are planned until 2022.

Government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux warned Sunday that a “magic wand” won’t solve all the problems of the protesters.

Paris tourist sites reopened Sunday, while workers cleaned up debris from protests that left widespread damage in the capital and elsewhere. At least 71 people were injured in Paris on Saturday, fewer than the week before but still a stunning figure. French media reported 136,000 protesters nationwide on Saturday, similar to the previous week.

Nearly 1,000 people were being held in custody after the Saturday protests in the French capital.

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Sylvie Corbet, Elaine Ganley and Samuel Petrequin contributed.

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