PARIS ON HIGH ALERT FOR FRESH ‘YEL­LOW VEST’ PROTESTS

Philippine Daily Inquirer - - WORLD -

Paris was on high alert on Satur­day with ma­jor se­cu­rity mea­sures in place ahead of fresh “yel­low vest” protests which au­thor­i­ties fear could turn vi­o­lent for a se­cond week­end in a row.

Shops, mu­se­ums, metro sta­tions and the Tour Eif­fel were due to close, while top-flight foot­ball matches and mu­sic shows were can­celed.

The French cap­i­tal ex­pe­ri­enced its worst ri­ots in decades last week­end, in scenes that shook the coun­try and plunged Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron’s gov­ern­ment into its deep­est cri­sis so far.

France’s in­te­rior min­is­ter Christophe Cas­taner said he ex­pected “only a few thou­sand peo­ple” to de­scend on the cap­i­tal af­ter the 8,000 protesters counted last week­end, “but among them are ul­travi­o­lent in­di­vid­u­als.”

He vowed “zero tol­er­ance” to­ward those aim­ing to wreak fur­ther de­struc­tion and may­hem, af­ter dozens of ve­hi­cles were torched, shops looted and the Arc de Tri­om­phe war memo­rial was wrecked last Satur­day.

Prime Min­is­ter Edouard Philippe on Fri­day evening met a del­e­ga­tion of self-de­scribed “mod­er­ate” yel­low vests who have urged peo­ple not to join the protests.

Philippe said 8,000 po­lice would be mo­bi­lized in Paris out of 89,000 na­tion­wide, and that a dozen ar­mored ve­hi­cles would be de­ployed, a first in the cap­i­tal.

‘Keep a low pro­file’

Shops around the fa­mous Champs-El­y­sees boule­vard the epi­cen­ter of last week’s bat­tle were busy board­ing up their win­dows and emp­ty­ing them of mer­chan­dise on Fri­day.

Much of the city will ef­fec­tively be on lock­down.

The op­er­a­tors of land­marks like the Eif­fel Tower and the Lou­vre and Or­say mu­se­ums said they would be closed, along with op­eras, the­aters, li­braries and ma­jor depart­ment stores.

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, Portu- gal and the Czech Repub­lic ad­vised cit­i­zens plan­ning to visit Paris over the week­end to post­pone their visit.

In a warn­ing of im­pend­ing vi­o­lence, a mem­ber of par­lia­ment for Macron’s party, Benoit Pot­terie, re­ceived a bul­let in the mail on Fri­day with the words: “Next time it will be be­tween your eyes.”

Calls on so­cial me­dia for protesters to at­tack the po­lice or march on the pres­i­den­tial palace have es­pe­cially rat­tled the au­thor­i­ties.

In­creas­ingly rad­i­cal­ized

Macron this week gave in to some of the protesters’ de­mands for mea­sures to help the poor and strug­gling mid­dle classes, in­clud­ing scrap­ping a planned in­crease in fuel taxes and freez­ing elec­tric­ity and gas prices in 2019.

But the yel­low vests, many of whom who have be­come in­creas­ingly rad­i­cal­ized, are hold- ing out for more.

Named af­ter the high-vis­i­bil­ity safety jack­ets worn by demon­stra­tors, they be­gan block­ing roads, fuel de­pots and shop­ping cen­ters around France on Nov. 17 over soar­ing fuel prices this year.

Since then, the move­ment has snow­balled into a wider re­volt against Macron’s eco­nomic poli­cies and his top-down ap­proach to power.

Protests at dozens of schools over stricter univer­sity en­trance re­quire­ments, and a call by farm­ers for demon­stra­tions next week, have added to a sense of a gov­ern­ment un­der siege.

And the hard­line Gen­eral Con­fed­er­a­tion of La­bor union, hop­ing to cap­i­tal­ize on the move­ment, has called for rail and Metro strikes next Fri­day to de­mand im­me­di­ate wage and pen­sion in­creases.

Cas­taner es­ti­mated on Fri­day that 10,000 peo­ple were tak­ing part na­tion­wide.—

—REUTERS

BRAC­ING FOR THE WORST French gen­darmes stand next to ar­mored ve­hi­cles near the Opera district ahead of a fresh wave of “yel­low vest” protests in Paris, France.

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