France brac­ing for fresh vi­o­lence

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - WORLD -

PARIS — The Eif­fel Tower, the Lou­vre mu­seum and scores of shops on the Champs-El­y­sees were set to close as au­thor­i­ties had 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 on 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 that au­thor­i­ties were brac­ing for “sig­nif­i­cant vi­o­lence” on Satur­day, based on in­di­ca­tions that pro­test­ers on both the far right and far left are plan­ning to con­verge on the cap­i­tal.

Of­fi­cials fear 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 8,000 po­lice would be de­ployed in Paris along­side a dozen ar­mored 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, about 89,000 po­lice will be mo­bi­lized, up from 65,000 last week­end, when the na­tion was rocked by day­long 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. And in a move ques­tioned by both crit­ics and sup­port­ers, the pres­i­dent him­self has dis­ap­peared from pub­lic view.

Shops and busi­nesses along and near the fa­mous Champs-El­y­sees 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 can­celed per­for­mances on Satur­day and the doors of ma­jor mu­se­ums will be shut. Six Ligue 1 soc­cer games sched­uled for Satur­day have been post­poned.

The “yel­low vest” protests be­gan on Nov 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 per­cent backed the demon­stra­tions de­spite last week­end’s vi­o­lence.

The move­ment has spurred other protests, in par­tic­u­lar 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, a source said.

Dozens of peo­ple wear­ing face masks 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 around 150 high school stu­dents demon­strat­ing in the south­ern Paris sub­urb of Cachan.

Farm­ers have also called for demon­stra­tions ev­ery day next week, while two truck driver unions plan an in­def­i­nite sym­pa­thy strike from Sun­day night.


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