Bar­ri­cades burn in fresh Paris protests

Kuwait Times - - Front Page -

PARIS: French “yel­low vest” de­mon­stra­tors clashed with riot po­lice in Paris yes­ter­day in the lat­est round of protests against Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron, but the city ap­peared to be es­cap­ing the large-scale de­struc­tion of a week ear­lier due to heavy se­cu­rity. Ar­mored ve­hi­cles rolled through cen­tral Paris as pro­test­ers, clad in their em­blem­atic lu­mi­nous safety jack­ets, threw rocks at po­lice and set fire to bar­ri­cades.

Shouts of “Macron, re­sign” min­gled with tear gas on the fa­mous Champ­sEl­y­sees av­enue, and thick plumes of black smoke from fires rose high into the

sky. Sev­eral cars were set alight. But the pock­ets of vi­o­lence were a far cry from the de­struc­tion and loot­ing of a week ear­lier, when some 200 cars were torched in the worst ri­ot­ing in Paris in decades. The gov­ern­ment had vowed “zero tol­er­ance” for an­ar­chist, far-right or other trou­ble-mak­ers seek­ing to wreak fur­ther havoc at protests that have sparked the deep­est cri­sis of Macron’s pres­i­dency.

Po­lice re­in­force­ments were boosted to 8,000 across the city, with ar­mored ve­hi­cles de­ployed in Paris for the first time ever. More than 650 pro­test­ers were de­tained in the cap­i­tal, many of them stopped as they ar­rived at train sta­tions or meet­ing points car­ry­ing ham­mers, petanque balls and other po­ten­tial mis­siles. Po­lice also con­fis­cated sur­gi­cal masks and gog­gles used to pro­tect against the ef­fects of tear gas.

Shops along the Champs-El­y­sees and depart­ment stores around the city stayed shut with their win­dows boarded up to avoid loot­ing. The Eif­fel Tower, ma­jor mu­se­ums and many metro sta­tions were also closed as parts of cen­tral Paris went on ef­fec­tive lock­down.

Yet gov­ern­ment calls for peo­ple to stay away fell on deaf ears as the protests against Macron’s pro-busi­ness poli­cies and top-down gov­ern­ing style show lit­tle sign of dy­ing down. Of­fi­cials es­ti­mated that 8,000 pro­test­ers had made their way to Paris from across France, among 31,000 turn­ing out na­tion­wide - num­bers sim­i­lar to a week ago. De­nis, a 30-year-old fork­lift driver, trav­elled to Paris for the first time yes­ter­day to make his voice heard af­ter three weeks at the bar­ri­cades in the Nor­mandy port of Caen. “I’m here for my 15-month-old son. I can’t let him live in a coun­try where the poor are ex­ploited,” he told AFP.

Yes­ter­day’s protests at­tracted the at­ten­tion of US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, who said they were ev­i­dence of a lack of pub­lic sup­port for pro-en­vi­ron­ment poli­cies like the Paris cli­mate agree­ment. “The Paris Agree­ment isn’t work­ing out so well for Paris. Protests and ri­ots all over France,” Trump tweeted. “Peo­ple do not want to pay large sums of money, much to third world coun­tries (that are ques­tion­ably run), in or­der to maybe pro­tect the en­vi­ron­ment.” The demon­stra­tions are not linked to the cli­mate agree­ment.

Peo­ple be­gan blockad­ing roads on Nov 17 over ris­ing fuel prices - partly due to taxes aimed at help­ing France to tran­si­tion to a greener econ­omy. But the demon­stra­tions has since swollen into a broad move­ment against ex-banker Macron, whom the pro­test­ers ac­cuse of fa­vor­ing the rich. Na­tion­wide, 89,000 po­lice of­fi­cers were out in force in towns, cities and on nu­mer­ous mo­tor­ways which caused havoc on France’s road net­work.

Po­lice also clashed with pro­test­ers in the south­west­ern cities of Bordeaux and Toulouse, though else­where, such as Mar­seille, the demon­stra­tions were peace­ful. More than 950 peo­ple were de­tained across France, ac­cord­ing to a po­lice source. The US em­bassy had is­sued a warn­ing to Amer­i­cans to “keep a low pro­file and avoid crowds” in Paris, while Bel­gium, Por­tu­gal and the Czech Repub­lic ad­vised cit­i­zens to post­pone any planned vis­its.

Macron last week gave in to some of the pro­test­ers’ de­mands for mea­sures to help the poor and strug­gling mid­dle classes, in­clud­ing scrap­ping a planned in­crease in fuel taxes and freez­ing elec­tric­ity and gas prices in 2019. The climb­down marked a ma­jor de­par­ture for a pres­i­dent who had vowed, un­like pre­de­ces­sors, not to be swayed by mass protests. But the “yel­low vests”, some of whom who have be­come in­creas­ingly rad­i­cal­ized, are hold­ing out for more. Many want him to re­verse his de­ci­sion to slash taxes on France’s wealth­i­est in a bid to boost in­vest­ment and cre­ate jobs - some­thing he has so far ruled out.

The pol­icy, along with hikes on pen­sion­ers’ taxes, cuts in hous­ing al­lowances and a string of com­ments deemed in­sen­si­tive to or­di­nary work­ers, has led crit­ics to la­bel Macron a “pres­i­dent of the rich”. Protests at dozens of schools over univer­sity re­forms, and a call by farm­ers for demon­stra­tions next week, have added to a sense of gen­eral re­volt in France.

Prime Min­is­ter Edouard Philippe on Fri­day met a del­e­ga­tion of self-de­scribed “moder­ate” yel­low vests, and a spokesman from the move­ment, Christophe Cha­len­con, said the pre­mier had “lis­tened to us and promised to take our de­mands to the pres­i­dent”. “Now we await Mr Macron. I hope he will speak to the peo­ple of France as a fa­ther, with love and re­spect and that he will take strong de­ci­sions,” Cha­len­con said. — AFP


TOULOUSE: French riot po­lice of­fi­cers stand next to a burn­ing bar­ri­cade and face pro­tes­tors dur­ing a demon­stra­tion yes­ter­day of yel­low vests against ris­ing costs of liv­ing they blame on high taxes.

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