November 18, 2018 / 11:21 AM / 22 days ago

Macron's popularity dips as French fuel tax revolt simmers

PARIS, Nov 18 (Reuters) - Emmanuel Macron’s popularity took a further hit in recent weeks, according to a poll on Sunday, as fuel tax protests rumbled on across France in the latest sign of discontent with the president’s economic reforms.

Only 25 percent of those questioned in an Ifop poll between Nov. 9 and 17 said they were satisfied with Macron, down from 29 percent in October, according to the survey of almost 2,000 people published in the Journal du Dimanche (JDD).

Macron, who came to power 18 months ago vowing to reshape the economy and overhaul institutions, has brushed off slumping ratings to push through a series of reforms, including a loosening of laws governing hiring and firing.

His government introduced fuel tax hikes to encourage drivers to embrace less-polluting cars, touching a nerve with voters in rural areas in particular as the extra cost began to bite in October when global oil prices surged.

Angry motorists and other demonstrators, many accusing Macron of being out of touch with ordinary people, blocked roads across France on Saturday in a grassroots campaign dubbed the “Yellow Vests” that drew nearly 288,000 protesters.

Some were still maintaining blockades on highway sliproads, tolls and roundabouts on Sunday.

Saturday’s demonstrations sparked run-ins with frustrated drivers trying to get around stoppages, and more than 400 people were injured, 14 of them seriously, Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said.

A woman protester died when she was accidentally hit by a panicked driver at one blockade. At least 157 people were taken into police custody.

In a separate Ifop poll in the JDD on Sunday, 62 percent of those surveyed said the government should prioritise policies to help household incomes even if it meant advancing more slowly in an environmentally friendly energy transition plan.

Environment Minister Francois de Rugy said the government, which last week sought to placate motorists with subsidies for the worst off, would not back down on its fuel tax plans. These are set for another hike in January including on diesel, the most commonly used fuel in France.

“I would prefer to announce tax cuts but we need levers to fight climate change,” he told Europe 1 radio and CNews television in a joint interview on Sunday.

Macron’s popularity has sunk to as low as 21 percent in other polls recently, after a torrid summer marked by a scandal over the violent conduct of the president’s former security adviser and the departure of several ministers. (Reporting by Sarah White and Sophie Louet; Editing by Dale Hudson)

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