Paris braces for more vi­o­lence as Macron keeps low pro­file

The Weekend Australian - - WORLD -

PARIS: The Eiffel Tower, the Lou­vre mu­seum and scores of shops on the Champs-El­y­sees are set to close as au­thor­i­ties warned of fresh vi­o­lence this week­end dur­ing protests which have bal­looned into the big­gest cri­sis of Em­manuel Macron’s pres­i­dency.

The gov­ern­ment is scram­bling to stave off an­other Satur­day of burned cars and run­ning street bat­tles with po­lice by “yel­low vest” pro­test­ers fu­ri­ous over ris­ing costs of liv­ing they blame on high taxes.

An In­te­rior Min­istry of­fi­cial said au­thor­i­ties were brac­ing for “sig­nif­i­cant vi­o­lence”, based on in­di­ca­tions that pro­test­ers on both the far Right and far Left were plan­ning to con­verge on the cap­i­tal.

Of­fi­cials feared they could be joined by hooli­gans set on ri­ot­ing and loot­ing, as is widely thought to have been the case last week­end.

Prime Min­is­ter Edouard Philippe said 8000 po­lice would be de­ployed in Paris along­side a dozen ar­moured ve­hi­cles — not used in ur­ban ar­eas since sub­ur­ban youth ri­ots in 2005 — for crowd con­trol as part of “ex­cep­tional” mea­sures to con­tain the risk of vi­o­lence.

He also re­it­er­ated his ap­peal for calm, say­ing in a prime-time TV in­ter­view that the gov­ern­ment was ready to con­sider “any mea­sure which would al­low us to boost spend­ing power”.

Across the coun­try 89,000 po­lice will be mo­bilised, up from 65,000 last week­end, when the coun­try was rocked by day-long scenes of ur­ban un­rest in Paris.

But so far the “yel­low vest” move­ment shows no signs of los­ing steam, de­spite the gov­ern­ment’s roll­back of planned fuel tax hikes for Jan­uary, one of the pro­test­ers’ core de­mands.

Shops and busi­nesses along and near the fa­mous Champ­sEl­y­sees were told to keep their doors closed, pro­tect ex­posed win­dows and re­move out­door fur­ni­ture, ac­cord­ing to po­lice no­tices. The move is likely to cost thou­sands of eu­ros in lost rev­enue as tourists and lo­cals stay clear for a se­cond hol­i­day week­end in a row.

Both the Garnier and Bastille opera houses have can­celled Satur­day per­for­mances and the doors of ma­jor mu­se­ums will be shut.

Six Ligue 1 soc­cer games, one in­volv­ing Paris Saint-Ger­main, sched­uled for to­day have been post­poned.

The “yel­low vest” protests be­gan on Novem­ber 17 in op­po­si­tion to ris­ing fuel taxes, but they have since ex­panded into a broad chal­lenge to Macron’s pro-busi­ness agenda and style of gov­ern­ing.

The pro­test­ers, mainly from small-town and ru­ral France, have broad pub­lic sup­port, with an opin­ion poll this week show­ing 72 per cent backed the de­mon­stra­tions de­spite last week­end’s vi­o­lence.

The move­ment has spurred other protests, such as stu­dents de­mand­ing an end to test­ing over­hauls and stricter uni­ver­sity en­trance re­quire­ments.

Nearly 280 high schools were dis­rupted, 45 of which were blocked, in protests across France on Thurs­day, with more than 700 stu­dents de­tained by po­lice.

Dozens of peo­ple wear­ing face­masks threw Molo­tov cock­tails, torched rub­bish bins and clashed with po­lice out­side schools in sev­eral cities.

“We’re the ones who are go­ing to even­tu­ally have to pay higher fuel prices,” said Ines, one of about 150 high school stu­dents demon­strat­ing in the south­ern Paris sub­urb of Cachan.

On Thurs­day a yel­low-vest rep­re­sen­ta­tive, Ben­jamin Cauchy, called on Mr Macron to meet a del­e­ga­tion of pro­test­ers to help defuse a sit­u­a­tion that he said had brought the coun­try “to the brink of in­sur­rec­tion and civil war”.

“We’re ask­ing him to meet us to ne­go­ti­ate on spend­ing power, which is what un­der­pins all this anger,” Mr Cauchy said.

Mr Macron, whose ap­proval rat­ings are down to just 23 per cent, will speak about the is­sue “early next week”, Richard Fer­rand, a se­nior MP from the Pres­i­dent’s party, said. The French leader did not want to “pour oil on the fire”, Mr Fer­rand said.


A man hurls an ob­ject dur­ing protests in Toulouse

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