Paris braces for more protest vi­o­lence

Restau­rants, shops to shut Satur­day as de­mon­stra­tors’ de­mands ex­pand

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - WORLD -

PARIS: Paris po­lice and store own­ers are brac­ing for new vi­o­lence at protests Satur­day, de­spite Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron’s sur­ren­der over a fuel tax hike that un­leashed weeks of un­rest.

Po­lice unions and lo­cal au­thor­i­ties held emer­gency meet­ings Thurs­day to strate­gize, while dis­parate groups of protesters did the same, shar­ing plans on so­cial net­works and chat groups.

Some “yel­low vest” protesters called for calm Thurs­day after the worst ri­ot­ing in Paris in decades last week­end. Many shops and restau­rants in the cen­ter of the cap­i­tal are shut­ting down Satur­day, fear­ing a re­peat of the vi­o­lence.

Macron Wed­nes­day agreed to aban­don the fuel tax hike, but protesters’ de­mands have now ex­panded to other is­sues.

Scores of protest­ing teens clashed with po­lice at a high school west of Paris Thurs­day, ac­cord­ing to French news re­ports, as part of na­tion­wide stu­dent ac­tions over univer­sity ad­mis­sions pro­ce­dures and ris­ing ad­min­is­tra­tive fees. Driv­ers wear­ing their sig­na­ture yel­low safety vests con­tin­ued to block roads around France, now de­mand­ing broader tax cuts and gov­ern­ment aid.

A small union rep­re­sent­ing po­lice ad­min­is­tra­tive per­son­nel called for a strike Satur­day that could fur­ther com­pli­cate week­end se­cu­rity mea­sures. Other po­lice unions are not talk­ing about strikes, but two po­lice union of­fi­cials told the As­so­ci­ated Press they are wor­ried about rad­i­cal trou­ble­mak­ers and oth­ers tak­ing ad­van­tage of the protest at­mos­phere to cause even greater dam­age this Satur­day.

Every­one is wor­ried about risks in the face of a move­ment with no clear lead­ers whose protests are eas­ily hi­jacked by trou­ble­mak­ers of all stripes. The gov­ern­ment is con­tribut­ing to the fear with dire warn­ings about new vi­o­lence by ex­trem­ists or other in­sti­ga­tors. “We can­not let these rebels con­tinue to threaten the na­tion,” In­te­rior Min­is­ter Christophe Cas­taner said Thurs­day.

Po­lice have come un­der crit­i­cism for fail­ing to pre­vent dam­age to the Arc de Tri­om­phe and stores along the famed Champs-El­y­sees in cen­tral Paris, as well as for vi­o­lence against protesters. Videos cir­cu­lat­ing on so­cial me­dia of po­lice beat­ing protesters at a Burger King on the Champs-El­y­sees have deep­ened the anger.

A po­lice spokes­woman said Thurs­day an in­ves­ti­ga­tion is un­der­way into that in­ci­dent, and that po­lice are ex­am­in­ing other videos shared on­line for pos­si­ble vi­o­la­tions.

Macron him­self, the cen­tral tar­get of the protests, has been largely in­vis­i­ble all week.

After win­ning elec­tion over­whelm­ingly last year, the 40-yearold pro-busi­ness cen­trist alien­ated many of his own vot­ers with tax cuts for the rich and other badly ex­plained re­forms – and with what many peo­ple see as his elit­ist, outof-touch at­ti­tude.

He doesn’t face re-elec­tion un­til 2022 and his party has a strong ma­jor­ity in Par­lia­ment, but his po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents are in­creas­ingly vo­cal and plan a no-con­fi­dence vote in the gov­ern­ment next week.

The gov­ern­ment is try­ing to calm ten­sions but not suc­ceed­ing so far.

The trans­port min­is­ter met Thurs­day with truck­ers’ unions, but they main­tained their plans to go on strike Sun­day over the is­sue of over­time bonuses.

The ri­ot­ing in Paris has wor­ried tourists, prompted the can­cel­la­tion of four French league soc­cer matches this week­end around the coun­try, and dam­aged the lo­cal econ­omy at the height of the hol­i­day shop­ping sea­son. Rampaging groups threw cob­ble­stones through store­fronts and looted valu­ables in some of the city’s rich­est neigh­bor­hoods.

Cle­ment Rozey, man­ager of a mo­tor­cy­cle shop in western Paris, spent two days and two nights clean­ing up after he watched pow­er­less as a group of thugs smashed his shop win­dows and emp­tied his shelves. He has boarded up the store and will stay closed Satur­day.

“We’re go­ing to have a se­cu­rity com­pany with se­cu­rity guards in­side and out­side the shop,” Rozey told the AP. “Ev­ery­thing has been fenced off, sev­eral times.”

Yet he re­mains sym­pa­thetic to the protest move­ment.

“Just like ev­ery­body, we’re stran­gled [fi­nan­cially] after the 15th of the month,” he said, re­fer­ring to the day when many work­ers are paid.

The protesters “are de­fend­ing a cause, they’re fol­low­ing through and rightly so. We sup­port them whole­heart­edly,” he said.

But vi­o­lent trou­ble­mak­ers who pil­lage and riot – “That’s some­thing else.” –

Stu­dents in Paris demon­strate against French gov­ern­ment ed­u­ca­tion re­forms.

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