France gears up to face new ri­ots as Paris goes into lock­down

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - FRONT PAGE -

PARIS: France mo­bi­lized tens of thou­sands of po­lice of­fi­cers and made plans to shut down beloved tourist attractions like the Eif­fel Tower and the Lou­vre on the eve of anti-gov­ern­ment protests that au­thor­i­ties feared could be even more violent than ones that have crip­pled the coun­try for weeks.

The dras­tic se­cu­rity mea­sures will put cen­tral Paris in a lock­down Satur­day, dis­rupt­ing the plans of tens of thou­sands of tourists and res­i­dents.

Hun­dreds of shops in Paris planned to shut their doors as well, pre­fer­ring to lose busi­ness dur­ing the key hol­i­day shop­ping pe­riod rather than have their win­dows smashed in and their mer­chan­dise looted, as hap­pened to many Paris stores last Satur­day when an antigov­ern­ment protest over ris­ing taxes turned into a riot.

Fri­day, work­ers across Paris lugged pieces of ply­wood and ham­mered boards over the win­dows of shops and busi­nesses – mak­ing the plush Champs-El­y­sees neigh­bor­hood ap­pear like it was brac­ing for a hur­ri­cane.

Some top French of­fi­cials said that de­scrip­tion was not far off.

“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 Fri­day.

“Some ul­tra­vi­o­lent peo­ple want to take part.”

Au­thor­i­ties say 8,000 po­lice will fan out across Paris, equipped with a dozen bar­ri­cade-bust­ing ar­mored ve­hi­cles that could be used for the first time in a French ur­ban area since the 2005 ri­ots.

“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.”

Paris po­lice, fear­ing that rad­i­cal pro­test­ers could turn street fur­ni­ture and con­struc­tion ma­te­ri­als into makeshift weapons, Fri­day were re­mov­ing all glass con­tain­ers, rail­ings and con­struc­tion ma­chines in high-risk ar­eas. Those in­cluded the world-renowned Champs-El­y­sees Av­enue, which would nor­mally be packed with tourists and shop­pers on a Satur­day in early De­cem­ber.

“It’s with an im­mense sad­ness that we’ll see our city par­tially brought to a halt, but your safety is our pri­or­ity,” Paris Mayor Anne Hi­dalgo said.

Across the coun­try, France is mo­bi­liz­ing some 89,000 po­lice, up from 65,000 last week­end, when more than 130 peo­ple were in­jured and over 400 ar­rested as protests

de­gen­er­ated into the worst street vi­o­lence to hit Paris in decades. Au­thor­i­ties also have can­celed six French league soc­cer matches around the coun­try.

Since the anti-gov­ern­ment un­rest be­gan on Nov. 17 in re­ac­tion 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 vests that French mo­torists keep in their cars – are press­ing for a wider range of ben­e­fits from the gov­ern­ment to help French work­ers, re­tirees and stu­dents.

French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron agreed late Wed­nes­day to aban­don the fuel tax hike that trig­gered the protests, but their anger at his gov­ern­ment has not abated. Since re­turn­ing from the G-20 meet­ing last week­end, he has kept largely out of sight, a move that has puz­zled both sup­port­ers and crit­ics. He is ex­pected to ad­dress the protests in a speech early next week. French stu­dents op­pos­ing changes in key high school tests protested again Fri­day, a day af­ter footage widely shared on so­cial me­dia showed the ar­rest of protest­ing high school stu­dents 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 of­fi­cers.

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 keep their doors shut Satur­day for safety rea­sons. Mu­sic fes­ti­vals, op­eras and other cul­tural events in the cap­i­tal were can­celed. –

A man builds a wall aimed at pro­tect­ing the shop win­dow of a bank­ing agency on the Champs-El­y­sees.

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