Paris braces for more violence as Macron keeps low profile
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