Mass ar­rests as new protests hit Paris

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French cap­i­tal went on lock­down for the lat­est ‘yel­low vest’ protests against Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron

PARIS: Po­lice fired tear gas and ar­rested hun­dreds of peo­ple in Paris as the French cap­i­tal went on lock­down for the lat­est ‘yel­low vest’ protests against Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron.

Shouts of ‘Macron, re­sign’ min­gled with the tear gas near the fa­mous Champs-El­y­sees av­enue, the scene last Satur­day of the worst ri­ot­ing in Paris for decades.

A fork­lift truck driver who gave his name as De­nis said he was plan­ning, like oth­ers, to march on Macron’s pres­i­den­tial palace in anger against a leader who they say only looks out for the rich.

“I’m here for my son. I can’t let him live in a coun­try where the poor are ex­ploited,” said the 30year-old, who had travelled down to Paris from the Nor­mandy port of Caen.

The protests be­gan on Nov 17 with road block­ades against ris­ing fuel prices but have since bal­looned into a mass move­ment against Macron’s poli­cies and top­down style of gov­ern­ing.

Co­or­di­nated ‘yel­low vest’ protests were tak­ing place across the coun­try on Satur­day, in­clud­ing on nu­mer­ous mo­tor­ways, caus­ing havoc on the na­tional road net­work.

Prime Min­is­ter Edouard Philippe said 481 peo­ple had been de­tained in Paris as po­lice car­ried out checks on peo­ple ar­riv­ing at train sta­tions and at protest hotspots such as the Champ­sEl­y­sees and Bastille mon­u­ment.

Among them were dozens ar­rested for car­ry­ing masks, ham­mers, sling­shots and rocks that could be used to at­tack po­lice.

Shops, mu­se­ums, the Eif­fel Tower and many metro sta­tions were closed, while top-flight foot­ball matches and con­certs have been can­celled.

Last week­end’s vi­o­lence, which saw some 200 cars torched and the Arc de Tri­om­phe van­dalised, shook France and plunged Macron’s gov­ern­ment into its deep­est cri­sis so far.

“These past three weeks have pro­duced a mon­ster that its cre­ators no longer con­trol,” In­te­rior Min­is­ter Cas­taner said, vow­ing ‘zero tol­er­ance’ to­wards those aim­ing to wreak fur­ther de­struc­tion.

Philippe met a del­e­ga­tion of self-de­scribed ‘mod­er­ate’ yel­low vests who urged peo­ple not to join the protests.

A spokesman from the move­ment, Christophe Cha­len­con, said Philippe 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,” he said.

Philippe said some 89,000 po­lice were be­ing mo­bilised for protests na­tion­wide, in­clud­ing 8,000 po­lice in Paris, where a dozen ar­moured ve­hi­cles were be­ing de­ployed for the first time in decades.

Shops around the Champ­sEl­y­sees boarded up their win­dows and emp­tied them of mer­chan­dise, while the Lou­vre, Musee d’Or­say and other mu­se­ums were shut.

Depart­ment stores were also closed due to the risk of loot­ing on what would nor­mally be a busy shop­ping week­end in the run-up to Christ­mas. For­eign gov­ern­ments are watch­ing de­vel­op­ments closely in one of the world’s most vis­ited cities.

The US em­bassy is­sued a warn­ing to Amer­i­cans in Paris to ‘keep a low pro­file and avoid crowds’, while Bel­gium, Por­tu­gal and the Czech Repub­lic ad­vised cit­i­zens to post­pone any planned vis­its.

In a warn­ing of im­pend­ing vi­o­lence, an MP for Macron’s party, Benoit Pot­terie, re­ceived a bul­let in the post on Fri­day with the words: ‘Next time it will be be­tween your eyes.’

Macron this week gave in to some of the protesters’ de­mands for mea­sures to help the poor

I’m here for my son. I can’t let him live in a coun­try where the poor are ex­ploited. — De­nis, fork­lift truck driver

and strug­gling mid­dle classes, in­clud­ing scrap­ping a planned in­crease in fuel taxes and freez­ing elec­tric­ity and gas prices in 2019.

But the ‘yel­low vests’, some of whom who have be­come in­creas­ingly rad­i­calised, are hold­ing out for more.

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.

The hard­line CGT union, hop­ing to cap­i­talise on the move­ment, has called for rail and metro strikes next Fri­day to de­mand im­me­di­ate wage and pen­sion in­creases.

Macron’s de­ci­sion early in his pres­i­dency to slash taxes on France’s wealth­i­est is par­tic­u­larly un­pop­u­lar with the protesters. — AFP

‘Yel­low vests’ protesters clash with riot po­lice amid tear gas on the Champs El­y­sees in Paris. — AFP photo

French CRS riot po­lice ap­pre­hend a man in a street near Saint Lazare train sta­tion dur­ing a na­tional day of protest in Paris. — Reuters photo

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