France pre­pares for week­end protests

About 89,000 po­lice to be mo­bi­lized coun­try­wide to counter ex­pected vi­o­lence

Winnipeg Free Press - - NEWS - SA­MUEL PETREQUIN AND SYLVIE COR­BET

ARIS — An­tic­i­pat­ing a fourth straight week­end of vi­o­lent protests, France on Fri­day mo­bi­lized ar­moured ve­hi­cles and thou­sands of po­lice, cor­doned off Paris’ broad boule­vards and made plans to shut down tourist sites like the Eif­fel Tower and Lou­vre.

The heavy se­cu­rity will put cen­tral Paris in a vir­tual lock­down to­day against what the in­te­rior min­is­ter called “rad­i­cal­ized and re­bel­lious peo­ple,” who au­thor­i­ties be­lieve will join mem­bers of the “yel­low vest” move­ment that has been hold­ing antigov­ern­ment demon­stra­tions.

Coun­try­wide, about 89,000 po­lice will fan out in the streets, an in­crease from 65,000 last week­end, when more than 130 peo­ple were in­jured and over

400 ar­rested as the protests de­gen­er­ated into the worst street vi­o­lence to hit the French cap­i­tal in decades.

Fear­ing in­creas­ing vi­o­lence, hun­dreds of busi­nesses planned to close to­day, pre­fer­ring to lose a key hol­i­day shop­ping day rather than have stores smashed and looted, like they were a week ago when protests over ris­ing taxes turned into a riot. Work­ers ham­mered ply­wood over the win­dows of shops and busi­nesses, mak­ing the plush Champs-Élysées neigh­bour­hood ap­pear to be brac­ing for a hur­ri­cane.

“Ac­cord­ing to the in­for­ma­tion we have, some rad­i­cal­ized and re­bel­lious peo­ple will try to get mo­bi­lized to­mor­row,” In­te­rior Min­is­ter Christophe Cas­taner told a news con­fer­ence. “Some ul­tra-vi­o­lent peo­ple want to take part.”

French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron met Fri­day night with about 60 anti-riot se­cu­rity of­fi­cers who will be de­ployed in Paris. He made the unan­nounced visit, with­out the press, to a fort used as mil­i­tary ac­com­mo­da­tion in No­gent-surMarne, east of Paris, and thanked the of­fi­cers for their work.

About 8,000 po­lice will be de­ployed across Paris, equipped with a dozen bar­ri­cade-bust­ing ar­moured ve­hi­cles that could be used for the first time in a French ur­ban area since ri­ots in

2005.

P“These ve­hi­cles can be very use­ful to pro­tect build­ings,” said Stanis­las Gaudon, head of the Al­liance po­lice union. “And in case they set up bar­ri­cades, we can quickly clear out the space and let our units progress.”

Po­lice re­moved any ma­te­ri­als from the streets that could be used as weapons, es­pe­cially at con­struc­tion sites in high-risk ar­eas. Those in­cluded the renowned Champs-Élysées, which would nor­mally be packed with tourists and shop­pers.

“It’s with an im­mense sad­ness that we’ll see our city par­tially brought to a halt, but your safety is our pri­or­ity,” Mayor Anne Hi­dalgo said. “Take care of Paris on Satur­day be­cause Paris be­longs to all the French peo­ple.”

As it did last week­end, the U.S. Em­bassy ad­vised Amer­i­cans to avoid the demon­stra­tions.

Prime Min­is­ter Édouard Philippe met Fri­day night with rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the move­ment to try to open a di­a­logue.

The seven “yel­low vests” in­vited to the meet­ing said they were sat­is­fied from the dis­cus­sion. One par­tic­i­pant, Christophe Cha­lan­con, told re­porters the prime min­is­ter “lis­tened to us.”

Since the un­rest be­gan Nov. 17 in re­sponse to a sharp in­crease in diesel taxes, four peo­ple have been killed in protest-re­lated ac­ci­dents. Now the de­mands of the “yel­low vest” move­ment — named for the flu­o­res­cent safety gear that French mo­torists keep in their cars — is press­ing for a wider range of ben­e­fits from the gov­ern­ment to help work­ers, re­tirees and stu­dents.

Macron on Wed­nes­day agreed to aban­don the fuel tax in­crease, but the protesters’ anger at his gov­ern­ment has not abated. Macron, since re­turn­ing from the G20 meet­ing last week­end, has kept largely out of sight, a move that has puz­zled sup­port­ers and crit­ics.

He has left his un­pop­u­lar gov­ern­ment to try to calm the na­tion. In re­sponse, “Macron, re­sign!” has be­come the main slo­gan of the “yel­low vest” demon­stra­tors.

The 40-year-old leader mostly spent the week hold­ing closed-door meet­ings in the Élysée pres­i­den­tial palace, and many protesters con­sider him to be hid­ing from the peo­ple.

Stu­dents op­pos­ing changes in key high school tests protested again Fri­day, a day af­ter video that was shared widely on so­cial me­dia showed the ar­rest of high school pupils out­side Paris and prompted an out­cry. Trade unions and far-left par­ties have lashed out at per­ceived po­lice bru­tal­ity.

The images, filmed Thurs­day at Mantes-la-Jolie, showed stu­dents on their knees with their hands be­hind their head, be­ing watched over by armed, masked po­lice.

Cas­taner, the in­te­rior min­is­ter, said 151 peo­ple were ar­rested in the small town, some car­ry­ing weapons. He said no stu­dents were in­jured.

The ri­ot­ing has also had an eco­nomic im­pact at the height of the hol­i­day shop­ping sea­son. Ram­pag­ing groups last week­end threw cob­ble­stones through Paris store­fronts and looted valu­ables in some of the city’s rich­est neigh­bour­hoods.

The na­tional Fed­er­a­tion of French mar­kets said that Christ­mas mar­kets have been “strongly im­pacted” and that its mem­bers reg­is­tered “an av­er­age fall of their es­ti­mated fig­ures be­tween 30 and 40 per cent since the be­gin­ning of the yel­low vest move­ment.”

Six French league soc­cer matches were can­celled around the coun­try. The Nico­las wine chain, one of France’s big­gest re­tail­ers, can­celled all its wine tast­ing ses­sions sched­uled for to­day.

In ad­di­tion to the clo­sure of the Eif­fel Tower, many shops and mu­se­ums across Paris, in­clud­ing the Lou­vre, the Or­say Mu­seum and the Grand Palais, will be shut to­day for safety rea­sons. Mu­sic fes­ti­vals, op­eras and other cul­tural events in the cap­i­tal were can­celled.

“We need to pro­tect cul­ture sites in Paris but also ev­ery­where in France,” Cul­ture Min­is­ter Franck Ri­ester told RTL ra­dio.

FRAN­COIS MORI / THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Work­ers carry a board to pro­tect shop win­dows from protesters on the Champs-Élysées av­enue on Fri­day.

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