French President Emmanuel Macron was both humble and resolute as he spoke publicly for the first time on the anti-government protests that have shaken the country.
“I take my share of responsibility. I might have hurt people with my words,” Macron said in a nationwide broadcast speech Monday night.
He also said he recognizes that a proposed tax hike on pensions was “unjust.”
But Macron called the anger that has boiled over in the past weeks the result of what he describes as a 40-year-long “malaise,” especially among rural French.
The president declared an “economic and social state of emergency.”
Along with cutting the tax on pensioners, there will be a government-funded $113 boost in the monthly minimum wage, taxes on overtime pay will be scrapped, and large businesses have been asked to give workers a tax-free, end-of-the-year bonus.
But Macron stood firm against the street protesters, saying there will be “no indulgence” for those who smash windows, loot stores and attack police.
He also showed no signs of giving in to one of the demonstrators’ top demands — his resignation.
Macron has already canceled a fuel tax hike that sparked the protests nearly a month ago.
The anger expanded beyond the tax to a general outrage against a president many protesters say cares more about the rich than ordinary French citizens.
Protests in Paris forced police to temporarily shut down major tourist sites, including the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre museum.
They also left the streets of the capital and other major cities covered with debris. More than 4,500 people have been arrested since the marches began.
Some protesters and opposition members called Macron’s moves a good first step, but others said they are still not satisfied.
Since there is no formal protest leader, it is too early to tell how Macron’s words will be received overall and whether more marches are expected.