French prime minister Edouard Philippe, standing firm against a wave of grassroots protests, has said that fuel tax hikes would remain in place despite nationwide agitation.
“The course we set is good and we will keep it,” Mr Philippe said during an interview on TV station France-2, “It’s not when the wind blows that you change course.”
Nearly 300,000 protesters paralysed traffic at more than 2,000 strategic sites around France on Saturday in a bid to force the government to lower taxes on diesel fuel and petrol.
A protester was struck and killed on Saturday when a panicked driver faced a roadblock in the eastern Savoie region.
French press reports on Sunday said the driver was charged with manslaughter and released.
At last count, at least 409 people had been injured — 14 seriously, Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said on Sunday on RTL radio.
Holdouts refusing to end the protests continued to slow traffic on Sunday.
Blockades were counted at 150 scattered locations on Sunday, Mr Castaner told RTL radio.
Protesters were notably in Rennes, in western France, Avignon, in the south, and Nancy, in the east, where police moved in to clear them.
The situation throughout the night was “agitated,” Mr Castaner said, with “aggressions, fights, knife-slashing” taking place, including among the protesters.
Overall, 157 people were detained for questioning – double the number reported on Saturday night.
The upstart movement behind the weekend protests represents middle-class citizens and those with fewer means who rely on their cars to get to work.
The protesters called themselves “yellow jackets” after the safety vests French drivers are obliged to keep in their cars for emergencies.
While it was unclear if the weekend’s momentum would continue, the movement is posing a challenge to French president Emmanuel Macron.
“I hear what the French are saying. It’s very clear,” the prime minister said on Sunday.
“But a government that … zigzags according to the difficulties, what too many past governments have done, that won’t lead France to where it must be.”
Mr Macron wants to close the gap between the price of diesel fuel and petrol as part of his strategy to wean France off fossil fuels.
A “carbon trajectory” calls for continued increases, particularly on diesel.
Mr Philippe said more explaining is needed “and we will do that”, while adhering to the plan.
He vowed that results would be in at the end of Mr Macron’s mandate in 2022 – and good for the French.