Paris in lockdown as further unrest looms France
Anticipating a fourth straight weekend of violent protests, France has mobilised armoured vehicles and thousands of police, cordoned off Paris’s broad boulevards and made plans to shut down tourist sites like the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre.
The heavy security will put central Paris in a virtual lockdown today against what the interior minister has called ‘‘radicalised and rebellious people’’ who authorities believe will join members of the ‘‘yellow vest’’ movement that has been holding anti-government demonstrations.
Nationwide, about 89,000 police will fan out into the streets, an increase from 65,000 last weekend, when more than 130 people were injured and over 400 arrested as the protests degenerated into the worst street violence to hit the French capital in decades.
Fearing increasing violence, hundreds of businesses in central Paris plan to close, preferring to lose a key holiday shopping day rather than have stores smashed and looted, like they were a week ago when protests over rising taxes turned into a riot. Workers have hammered plywood over the windows of shops and businesses, making the plush ChampsElysees neighbourhood appear to be bracing for a hurricane.
‘‘According to the information we have, some radicalised and rebellious people will try to get mobilised,’’ Interior Minister Christophe Castaner told a news conference. ‘‘Some ultra-violent people want to take part.’’
About 8000 police will be deployed across Paris, equipped with a dozen barricade-busting armoured vehicles that could be used for the first time in a French urban area since riots in 2005.
Police have removed any materials from the streets that could be used as weapons, especially at construction sites in high-risk areas. These include the renowned Champs-Elysees, which would normally be packed with tourists and shoppers.
Prime Minister Edouard Philippe met yesterday with representatives of the yellow vest movement to try to open a dialogue. The seven ‘‘yellow vests’’ invited to the meeting said they were satisfied after the discussion. One, Christophe Chalancon, told reporters the prime minister ‘‘listened to us’’.
Since the unrest began on November 17, in response to a sharp increase in diesel taxes, four people have been killed in protest-related accidents. Now the yellow vest movement – named for the fluorescent safety gear that French motorists keep in their cars – is pressing for a wider range of benefits from the government to help workers, retirees and students.
President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday agreed to abandon the fuel tax increase, but the protesters’ anger at his government has not abated.
‘‘Some ultra-violent people want to take part.’’ French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner
Since returning from the G20 meeting last weekend, the president has kept largely out of sight, a move that has puzzled supporters and critics. He has left his unpopular government to try to calm the nation. In response, ‘‘Macron, resign!’’ has become the main slogan of the yellow vest demonstrators.
Students opposing changes to key high school tests protested again yesterday, a day after video showing the arrest of high school students outside Paris was shared widely on social media, prompting an outcry.
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 be shut today for safety reasons. Music festivals, operas and other cultural events in the capital have been cancelled.
A worker cleans away graffiti reading ‘‘Long term unrest’’ near the Champs-Elysees in Paris yesterday. Antigovernment protests this weekend could be more violent than the ones that have crippled the country for weeks.
Students demonstrate in Paris yesterday after video showing the brutal arrest of high school students protesting outside Paris sparked anger.