Paris in lock­down as fur­ther un­rest looms France

Sunday Star-Times - - World -

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.

AP

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.

AP

Stu­dents demon­strate in Paris yes­ter­day after video show­ing the bru­tal ar­rest of high school stu­dents protest­ing out­side Paris sparked anger.

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