France braces for more trou­ble

Gulf Times - - EUROPE -

France hun­kered down for an­other wave of po­ten­tially vi­o­lent protests to­day as em­bat­tled Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron planned to ad­dress the na­tion next week over pub­lic fury at the high cost of liv­ing, se­nior al­lies said.

In­te­rior Min­is­ter Christophe Cas­taner said the three-weekold “yel­low vest” re­volt had “cre­ated a mon­ster” and vowed po­lice would have no tol­er­ance for vi­o­lence, with much of Paris in lock­down and tens of thou­sands of po­lice de­ployed na­tion­wide.

Named af­ter the flu­o­res­cent safety vests that all French mo­torists must carry, the protesters are billing their planned ac­tion to­day as “Act IV” of worst un­rest seen in the cap­i­tal since the 1968 stu­dent ri­ots.

Cas­taner warned that rad­i­cals would likely again in­fil­trate the protest move­ment – a back­lash against high liv­ing costs but also, in­creas­ingly, a re­volt against Macron him­self, in­clud­ing his per­ceived lofti­ness and re­forms favour­ing a mon­eyed elite.

“These last three weeks have cre­ated a mon­ster,” Cas­taner told re­porters. “Our se­cu­rity forces will re­spond with firm­ness and I will have no tol­er­ance for any­one who cap­i­talises on the dis­tress of our cit­i­zens.”

Some 89,000 po­lice of­fi­cers will be on duty na­tion­wide to fore­stall a re­peat of last Satur­day’s de­struc­tive may­hem in ex­clu­sive cen­tral dis­tricts of Paris.

Po­lice in Paris will be backed up by ar­moured ve­hi­cles equipped to clear bar­ri­cades.

Se­nior al­lies of Macron said the pres­i­dent would ad­dress the na­tion early next week.

Nav­i­gat­ing his big­gest cri­sis since be­ing elected 18 months ago, Macron has left it largely to his prime min­is­ter, Edouard Philippe, to deal in pub­lic with the tur­moil and of­fer con­ces­sions.

How­ever, the 40-year-old is un­der mount­ing pres­sure to speak more fully as his ad­min­is­tra­tion tries to re­gain the ini­tia­tive fol­low­ing three weeks of un­rest in the G7 na­tion.

“The pres­i­dent will speak early next week. I think this is what the French peo­ple want, they want an­swers,” Trans­port Min­is­ter Elis­a­beth Borne told Sud Ra­dio yes­ter­day.

Macron has not spo­ken in pub­lic since he con­demned last Satur­day’s dis­tur­bances while at the G20 sum­mit in Ar­gentina and op­po­si­tion lead­ers ac­cused him of turn­ing the El­y­see Palace into a bunker where had taken cover.

“Is Macron still in Ar­gentina? He must surely have an opin­ion,” hard-left leader Jean-Luc Me­len­chon said on Twit­ter on Tues­day.

“The pres­i­dent him­self must speak,” main op­po­si­tion con­ser­va­tive Repub­li­cains leader Lau­rent Wauquiez told Europe 1 ra­dio on Thurs­day.

Af­ter the De­cem­ber 1 ri­ots in cen­tral Paris and some­times vi­o­lent demon­stra­tions in dozens of other cities and towns across France, the gov­ern­ment of­fered a rush of sweet­en­ers to soothe pub­lic anger.

It started by scrap­ping next year’s planned hikes to fuel taxes, the first ma­jor U-turn of Macron’s pres­i­dency and cost­ing the Trea­sury €4bn ($4.5bn).

But protesters want Macron to go fur­ther to help hard-pressed house­holds, in­clud­ing an in­crease to the min­i­mum wage, lower taxes, higher salaries, cheaper en­ergy, bet­ter re­tire­ment pro­vi­sions and even Macron’s res­ig­na­tion.

How­ever, mind­ful of France’s deficit and not want­ing to flout EU rules, Macron will have scant wrig­gle room for more con­ces­sions.

The “gilets jaunes” (yel­low vest) move­ment re­mains amor­phous and hard to de­fine, with a rapidly shift­ing agenda and in­ter­nal di­vi­sions.

One fac­tion, which dubs it­self the “Free Yel­low Vests”, called on protesters not to travel to Paris yes­ter­day, but crit­i­cised Macron for re­fus­ing to hold di­rect ne­go­ti­a­tions.

“We ap­peal for calm, for re­spect of pub­lic prop­erty and the se­cu­rity forces,” Ben­jamin Cauchy de­clared in front of the Na­tional Assem­bly.

His group is seen as mod­er­ate within the broader move­ment.

“The for­got­ten France is the France of the re­gions and it is in the re­gions that the France will show peace­fully their anger,” Cauchy said.

The Eif­fel Tower, opera house, and Lou­vre are among dozens of mu­se­ums and tourist sites in Paris that will close to­day to pre­empt feared at­tacks by yel­low vest mil­i­tants.

Lux­ury bou­tiques and restau­rants in fancy neigh­bour­hoods and near the pres­i­den­tial palace erected bar­ri­cades and boarded up win­dows.

Depart­ment stores Ga­lerie Lafayette and Prin­temps said they would not open in the cap­i­tal to­day.

The trou­ble is jeop­ar­dis­ing a timid eco­nomic re­cov­ery in France just as the Christ­mas hol­i­day sea­son kicks off.

Re­tail­ers have lost about €1bn in rev­enue since the protests erupted, the re­tail fed­er­a­tion said.

On the French stock mar­ket, re­tail­ers, air­lines and hote­liers suf­fered their worst week in months.

Pa­trick Del­mas, 49, will shut his “Le Monte Carlo” bar next to the Champs-El­y­sees, blam­ing hood­lums from an­ar­chist and anti-cap­i­tal­ist groups, as well as the yel­low vest move­ment’s vi­o­lent fringe.

“We have lost 60% of busi­ness over the last 15 days,” he lamented. “The prob­lem is all those peo­ple who ar­rive with the sole in­ten­tion of smash­ing things up.”

Left:Work­ers set up wood pan­els to pro­tect the win­dows of a shop on the Champs-El­y­sees, near the Arc de Tri­om­phe, on the eve of the ‘yel­low vests’ protest in Paris.

Be­low:In­te­rior Min­is­ter Cas­taner looks at a mov­able bar­rier of the mo­bile Gen­darmerie ar­moured unit in Ver­sailles-Sa­tory, west of Paris.

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