Paris ri­ot­ers on the ram­page

135 IN­JURED, 1,385 IN CUS­TODY AS PROTESTS ES­CA­LATE IN A DRA­MATIC CHAL­LENGE TO MACRON

Gulf News - - Front Page - PARIS

French riot po­lice clashed with “yel­low vest” pro­test­ers in cen­tral Paris yes­ter­day dur­ing the lat­est wave of demon­stra­tions against high liv­ing costs which have shaken Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron’s au­thor­ity.

Pro­test­ers played a cat-and­mouse game with riot po­lice, mov­ing from the heav­ily guarded Champs El­y­sees area to other parts of the city, set­ting cars, garbage bins and wooden shut­ters on fire. More than 135 peo­ple were in­jured.

More than 1,385 pro­test­ers re­mained in cus­tody after po­lice found they car­ried po­ten­tial weapons such as ham­mers, baseball bats and metal balls.

PM calls for di­a­logue

Prime Min­is­ter Edouard Philippe yes­ter­day called for fresh di­a­logue with rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the pro­test­ers, promis­ing the gov­ern­ment would ad­dress con­cerns over ris­ing liv­ing costs. “The di­a­logue has be­gun and it must con­tinue,” Philippe said in a tele­vised state­ment. “The pres­i­dent will speak, and will pro­pose mea­sures that will feed this di­a­logue.” Macron has stayed out of the pub­lic eye all week, leav­ing his un­pop­u­lar gov­ern­ment to try to calm the na­tion.

Some 125,000 peo­ple were demon­strat­ing across France. Po­lice fired tear gas, used water can­non and horses to charge at pro­test­ers, but there was less vi­o­lence than last week, when ri­ot­ers torched 112 cars and looted shops in the worst ri­ot­ing in Paris since May 1968. “We were on our knees and they shot tear gas at us. I am telling you, things are go­ing to blow up tonight,” said Ya­nis Areg, 21, from Paris sub­urb Mont­fer­meil.

Pro­test­ers, us­ing so­cial me­dia, have billed the week­end as “Act IV” in a dra­matic chal­lenge to Macron and his poli­cies. Much of Paris looked like a ghost town, with mu­se­ums, depart­ment stores closed on what should have been a fes­tive pre-Christmas shop­ping day.

Ar­moured ve­hi­cles rolled through cen­tral Paris yes­ter­day as riot po­lice clashed with “yel­low vest” demon­stra­tors, who set fire to bar­ri­cades and hurled rocks in the lat­est demon­stra­tions against Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron.

Shouts of “Macron, re­sign” min­gled with tear gas on the Champs-El­y­sees av­enue, which was the scene of the worst ri­ot­ing in Paris in decades last week.

Thick plumes of black smoke from fires could be seen ris­ing high into the sky over the city.

Gov­ern­ment calls for pro­test­ers to stay away from “Act IV” of a bat­tle that be­gan over fuel prices but bal­looned into an anti-Macron re­volt fell on deaf ears, with demon­stra­tors mak­ing their way to Paris from across the coun­try.

In the Grands Boule­vards shop­ping district, masked pro­test­ers threw rocks at riot po­lice and set fire to a bar­ri­cade hastily as­sem­bled from stolen dust­bins and Christmas trees.

De­nis, a 30-year-old fork­lift driver from the Nor­mandy port of Caen, trav­elled to Paris for the first time yes­ter­day to make his voice heard after three weeks at the bar­ri­cades in the prov­inces.

“I’m here for my 15-mon­thold son. I can’t let him live in a coun­try where the poor are ex­ploited,” he told AFP.

The demon­stra­tors be­gan blockad­ing roads over ris­ing fuel taxes on Novem­ber 17 but their list of de­mands have since grown, with many calling for the res­ig­na­tion of Macron, whom they ac­cuse of favour­ing the rich.

Co­or­di­nated “yel­low vest” protests were tak­ing place across the coun­try yes­ter­day, in­clud­ing on nu­mer­ous mo­tor­ways, caus­ing havoc on the na­tional road net­work.

Deputy in­te­rior min­is­ter Lau­rent Nunez said an es­ti­mated 31,000 peo­ple were tak­ing part in protests na­tion­wide, in­clud­ing 8,000 in Paris — sim­i­lar num­bers to last week.

Around 1,385 peo­ple had been de­tained, most of them in Paris.

Po­lice car­ried out checks on peo­ple ar­riv­ing at the cap­i­tal’s train sta­tions, con­fis­cat­ing items that could be used as pro­jec­tiles as well as sur­gi­cal masks and gog­gles used to pro­tect against the ef­fects of tear gas. Some of those ar­rested were car­ry­ing ham­mers, sling­shots and rocks.

But many of the demon­stra­tors in­sisted they wanted no vi­o­lence.

Parts of the city cen­tre were on ef­fec­tive lock­down, with shops, mu­se­ums, the Eif­fel Tower and many metro sta­tions closed. Topflight foot­ball matches and con­certs were can­celled.

Meet­ing with mod­er­ates

Philippe on Fri­day evening met a del­e­ga­tion of self­de­scribed “mod­er­ate” yel­low vests who urged peo­ple not to join the protests.

A spokesman from the move­ment, Christophe Cha­len­con, said Philippe had “lis­tened to us and promised to take our de­mands to the pres­i­dent”.

“Now we await Mr Macron. I hope he will speak to the peo­ple of France as a fa­ther, with love and re­spect and that he will take strong de­ci­sions,” he said.

Philippe said some 89,000 po­lice were be­ing mo­bilised for protests na­tion­wide, in­clud­ing 8,000 po­lice in Paris, where a dozen ar­moured ve­hi­cles were be­ing de­ployed for the first time in decades.

Shopown­ers around the Champs-El­y­sees boarded up their win­dows and emp­tied them of mer­chan­dise on Fri­day, while the Lou­vre, Musee d’Or­say and other mu­se­ums were shut.

Depart­ment stores were also ■ ■ closed due to the risk of loot­ing on what would nor­mally be a busy shop­ping week­end in the run-up to Christmas. 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, Por­tu­gal and the Czech Repub­lic ad­vised cit­i­zens to post­pone any planned vis­its. In a warn­ing of im­pend­ing vi­o­lence, an MP for Macron’s party, Benoit Pot­terie, re­ceived a bul­let in the post on Fri­day with the words: “Next time it will be be­tween your eyes.” ■

AFP

A mo­tor­bike burns on the Boule­vard de Cour­celles in Paris after be­ing set ablaze by pro­test­ers yes­ter­day.

Reuters

Co­or­di­nated ‘yel­low vest’ protests were tak­ing place across the coun­try yes­ter­day, in­clud­ing on nu­mer­ous mo­tor­ways.

AFP

Riot po­lice next to a car set on fire dur­ing the ‘yel­low vest’ protest on the Champs-El­y­sees av­enue in Paris.

AFP

A car burns dur­ing a ‘yel­low vests’ protest near the Arc de Tri­om­phe in Paris yes­ter­day.

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