Paris on lock­down as France braces for new round of ‘yel­low vest’ protests

The Globe and Mail (Ottawa/Quebec Edition) - - NEWS - SA­MUEL PETRIQUIN

Demon­stra­tors con­tinue to de­mand more con­ces­sions from gov­ern­ment, in­clud­ing lower taxes and higher salaries

Paris was on lock­down early on Satur­day with thou­sands of French se­cu­rity forces braced to meet re­newed ri­ot­ing by “yel­low vest” pro­test­ers in the cap­i­tal and other cities in a fourth week­end of con­fronta­tion over liv­ing costs.

The Eif­fel Tower and other tourist land­marks were shut, shops were boarded up to avoid loot­ing and street fur­ni­ture re­moved to avoid metal bars from be­ing used as pro­jec­tiles.

About 89,000 po­lice were de­ployed across the coun­try.

Of these, about 8,000 were de­ployed in Paris to avoid a re­peat of last Satur­day’s may­hem when ri­ot­ers torched cars and looted shops off the famed Champs-Élysées boule­vard, and de­faced the Arc de Tri­om­phe with graf­fiti di­rected at Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron.

Pro­test­ers, us­ing so­cial me­dia, have billed the week­end as “Act IV” in a dra­matic chal­lenge to Mr. Macron and his poli­cies.

The protests, named af­ter the high-vis­i­bil­ity safety jack­ets French mo­torists have to keep in their cars, erupted in Novem­ber over the squeeze on house­hold bud­gets caused by fuel taxes.

Demon­stra­tions have since swelled into a broad, some­timesvi­o­lent re­bel­lion against Mr. Macron – a chal­lenge made more dif­fi­cult to han­dle since the move­ment has no for­mal leader.

Au­thor­i­ties say the protests have been hi­jacked by far-right and an­ar­chist el­e­ments bent on vi­o­lence and stir­ring up so­cial un­rest in a di­rect af­front to Mr. Macron and the se­cu­rity forces.

Nonethe­less, the 40-year-old Mr. Macron, whose pop­u­lar­ity is at a low ebb ac­cord­ing to polls, has been forced into mak­ing the first ma­jor U-turn of his pres­i­dency by aban­don­ing a fuel tax.

De­spite the climb­down, the “yel­low vests” con­tinue to de­mand more con­ces­sions from the gov­ern­ment, in­clud­ing lower taxes, higher salaries, cheaper en­ergy costs, bet­ter re­tire­ment pro­vi­sions and even Mr. Macron’s res­ig­na­tion.

One of them, Eric Drouet, a truck driver, called on pro­test­ers to storm into the Élysée pres­i­den­tial palace. An Élysée of­fi­cial has said in­tel­li­gence sug­gested that some pro­test­ers would come to the cap­i­tal “to van­dal­ize and to kill.”

Mr. Macron, who has not spo­ken in pub­lic since he con­demned last Satur­day’s dis­tur­bances while at the G20 sum­mit in Ar­gentina, will ad­dress the coun­try early next week, his of­fice said.

On Fri­day evening, he vis­ited a group of po­lice in their bar­racks out­side Paris, his of­fice said.

Nav­i­gat­ing his big­gest cri­sis since be­ing elected 18 months ago, Mr. Macron has left it largely to his Prime Minister, Édouard Philippe, to deal in pub­lic with the tur­moil and of­fer con­ces­sions.

But he is un­der pres­sure to speak more fully as his ad­min­is­tra­tion tries to re­gain the ini­tia­tive fol­low­ing three weeks of un­rest that are the worst since the 1968 stu­dent ri­ots.

In a sign the con­ces­sions of­fered by the gov­ern­ment may be start­ing to weaken sup­port for the move­ment, two opin­ion polls showed a de­cline in pop­u­lar­ity for the “yel­low vests” on Fri­day.

The protests were sup­ported by 66 per cent of re­spon­dents in an Ifop-Fidu­cial poll for CNews TV, down six per­cent­age points since a pre­vi­ous poll car­ried out on Dec. 3-4.


Pro­tes­tors flood the Place de la République square in Paris on Fri­day. This week, about 89,000 po­lice were de­ployed across the coun­try in re­sponse to ‘yel­low vests’ protests.

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