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Macron says his economic plan 'was not fair,' agrees to some of protesters' demands

French President Emmanuel Macron says the anger that has exploded on the streets of Paris and in other regions of the country is "deep and justified." In a recorded address Monday evening, he announced a series of measures to reduce taxes and boost purchasing power for the masses who feel his presidency has favoured the rich.

French government cancels planned tax increase and boosts minimum wage

French President Emmanuel Macron speaks during a special address to the nation, his first public comments after four weeks of nationwide 'yellow vest' (gilet jaune) protests, at the Elysee Palace, in Paris. ( Ludovic Marin/Pool via Reuters)

French President Emmanuel Macron says the anger that has exploded on the streets of Paris and in other regions of the country is "deep and justified."

In a recorded address to the nation Monday evening, he announced a series of measures to reduce taxes and boost purchasing power for the masses who feel his presidency has favoured the rich.  

They include a minimum wage increase of €100 a month ($150 Cdn) that will be covered by the government, and the cancellation of a planned social security tax increase. 

"The effort we asked for was too big and was not fair," Macron said. 

A view of the Place de la Republique as protesters wearing yellow vests gather during a national day of protest in Paris Saturday. (Stephane Mahe/Reuters)

In his first public address since the protests began four weeks ago, Macron said he knows some of his words have hurt people, but said that no anger can justify attacking police or looting stores. 

He did not resign — one of the main demands of the protesters. 

"We will respond to the economic and social urgency with strong measures, by cutting taxes more rapidly, by keeping our spending under control, but not with U-turns."

Macron said he would stick to his reform agenda and refused to reinstate a wealth tax.

The 40-year-old former investment banker faces a delicate task: he needs to persuade the middle class and blue-collar workers that he hears their anger over a squeeze on household spending, without being exposed to charges of caving in to street politics.

"No doubt over the past year and a half we have not provided answers that were strong and quick enough. I take my share of responsibility," he said.

"I may have given the impression that I did not care about that, that I had other priorities. I also know that I have hurt some of you with my words."

A protester waves a French flag during clashes with police at a demonstration in Paris Saturday. (Benoit Tessier/Reuters)

Political opponents, who have largely failed to tap into the discontent from the leaderless "yellow vest," criticized Macron's response as insufficient.

"Emmanuel Macron thought he could hand out some cash to calm the citizens' insurrection that has erupted," Jean-Luc Melenchon, leader of the far-left La France Insoumise, said.

"I believe that Act V (of the protests) will play out on Saturday," he said referring to a new round of protests planned this weekend.

One of the faces of the "yellow vest" movement appeared unconvinced as well.

"In terms of substance, these are half measures. We can feel that Macron has got a lot more to give," Benjamin Cauchy, who met the French leader last week, told France 2 television.

'Heading into chaos'

Small-business representatives lamented the blow to retail and other companies at the height of the Christmas shopping season.

Herve Morin, a centrist politician who heads a group of regional leaders, urged the president to change "the method and the software" in communicating with the French public, warning that if he doesn't, "the country risks heading into chaos."

Graffiti is seen on a vandalized Starbucks coffee shop with broken store front windows in Paris on Sunday, the day after organized clashes during a national day of protest. (Piroschka van de Wouw/Reuters)

Fallout from the protests so far could cost France 0.1 per cent 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.

No 'magic wand'

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.

A protester wearing a yellow vest burns a French flag at a barricade during clashes with police on Saturday in Paris. (Stephane Mahe/Reuters)

Graffiti throughout the French capital singles Macron out for criticism, reflecting a national sense that he 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.

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 there were 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.

With files from Reuters and CBC News

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