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France

Motorway operator scraps plan to pursue Yellow Vest toll dodgers

media A toll booth in Virsac, south west France, vandalised during the Yellow Vest protests, 21 November 2018. NICOLAS TUCAT/AFP

France's largest toll road operator Vinci on Tuesday backtracked on its plan to impose a late charge on motorists who drove through toll booths occupied by Yellow Vest protesters without paying.

The company had said on Monday it would send an invoice to motorists whose licence plates were captured on surveillance cameras.

It explained that it was following standard procedure by charging motorists who had failed to pay their fees on time.

But faced with public uproar, it reversed course, though it called for "civic sense".

Several drivers in fact wrote letters of complaint arguing that they had been unable to pay at toll booths which were occupied by Yellow Vest protesters.

About 40 sites have been occupied by the fluorescent-vest wearing activists, who have also damaged various highway intersections along Vinci's network, including in tourist towns such as Avignon, Orange, Perpignan and Agde.

Costly damage

On Tuesday, demonstrators torched a building in the town of Bessan, in the region of Béziers in southern France.

Some 20 people were arrested following the blazes, while four others remain in custody following fires on Saturday.

Vinci, whose network is mainly in southern and western France, estimates the damages since the start of the protests five weeks ago, will cost it “several tens of millions” of euros, not including lost revenue, as the protesters have allowed thousands of motorists onto the highways for free.

The demonstrations began as a protest against fuel tax increases, but have since morphed into a wider backlash against the liberal economic policies of French President Emmanuel Macron.

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