Paris braces for more protests

● Se­cu­rity in­creased, minister vows zero tol­er­ance as re­bel­lion ‘mon­ster es­capes its cre­ators’

Weekend Post (South Africa) - - World - Katy Lee

A three-week-old re­bel­lion over taxes had spawned “a mon­ster”, French in­te­rior minister Christophe Cas­taner said on Fri­day as Paris braced for fur­ther violent “yel­low vest” protests this week­end.

On the eve of a fourth set of demon­stra­tions in the cap­i­tal in as many weeks, Cas­taner vowed zero tol­er­ance to­wards those hop­ing to en­act a re­peat of last week­end’s de­struc­tion and may­hem.

“These past three weeks have seen the birth of a mon­ster that has es­caped its cre­ators,” a grave-look­ing Cas­taner told a me­dia con­fer­ence.

“It’s time now for di­a­logue,” he urged.

Last Satur­day’s ri­ots in Paris, where the Arc de Tri­om­phe war me­mo­rial was sacked, dozens of cars torched and shops looted, were the worst in decades, plung­ing Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron’s gov­ern­ment into a deep cri­sis.

Shops around the fa­mous Champs-El­y­sees boule­vard – epi­cen­tre of last week’s bat­tle be­tween po­lice and pro­test­ers – were bat­ten­ing down the hatches on Fri­day.

The sound of ham­mers and power tools rang out along the Grande Armee av­enue as shops boarded up win­dows and emp­tied their stock.

“We can’t take the risk,” a man­ager at a Du­cati mo­tor­cy­cle deal­er­ship said, as em­ploy­ees loaded lux­ury Ital­ian rac­ers onto trucks for safe­keep­ing.

Last week, the store was looted of ß120,000 (R1.9m) worth of mer­chan­dise.

Lead­ing mu­se­ums and land­marks, in­clud­ing the Eif­fel Tower, Arc de Tri­om­phe, Lou­vre and Musee d’Or­say, have said they will re­main closed on Satur­day. The US em­bassy is­sued a warn­ing to its cit­i­zens in Paris to “keep a low pro­file and avoid crowds”.

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.

But the “yel­low vests” are hold­ing out for more.

The gov­ern­ment has warned peace­ful pro­test­ers to stay away from Paris on Satur­day and vowed a tough re- sponse in the event of trou­ble.

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said 8,000 po­lice would be de­ployed in Paris, out of 89,000 na­tion­wide, and ar­moured ve­hi­cles would be sta­tioned around the cap­i­tal – a first in the city in 13 years.

Po­lice were al­ready bat­tling ac­cu­sa­tions on Fri­day of be­ing heavy-handed, with a video of high-school pupils kneel­ing on the ground with their hands be­hind their heads caus­ing wide­spread out­rage.

“What­ever wrong was done, noth­ing jus­ti­fies this filmed hu­mil­i­a­tion of mi­nors,” So­cial­ist leader Olivier Faure tweeted.

“There is no need to pour even more oil on the flames,” Faure warned af­ter the mass round-up of teens fol­low­ing protests at a school in the Paris sub­urb of Mantes-la-Jolie, where two cars were burned.

Lau­rent Saint-Martin, a se­nior mem­ber of Macron’s Repub­lic On The Move party, said around 40 of the stu­dents were masked and car­ry­ing equip­ment for use in van­dal­ism and ar­son. But he too called the videos shock­ing.

The “yel­low vests”, named af­ter the safety jack­ets worn by demon­stra­tors, be­gan block­ing roads, fuel de­pots and shop­ping cen­tres around France on Novem­ber 17 over fuel price hikes.

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 gen­eral re­volt.

Four peo­ple have died so far in ac­ci­dents dur­ing the yel­low vest protests and po­lit­i­cal lead­ers have ap­pealed for calm.

The pro­test­ers, mainly from ru­ral and small-town France, ac­cuse Macron of favour­ing the rich and city-dwellers with his poli­cies. Many are call­ing on him to re­sign.

Macron’s car­di­nal sin, in the eyes of the pro­test­ers, was to slash wealth taxes shortly af­ter tak­ing of­fice, while hik­ing taxes on pen­sion­ers and cut­ting hous­ing ben­e­fits.

Pho­to­graph: JEAN-PHILIPPE KSIAZEK/AFP

JOIN­ING IN: High school pupils demon­strate in Lyon on Fri­day against stricter univer­sity en­trance re­quire­ments

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