On the bar­ri­cades with the gilets jaunes

The Guardian - - WORLD - Kim Willsher

French se­cu­rity forces will de­ploy ar­moured ve­hi­cles in Paris to­day in an­tic­i­pa­tion of more vi­o­lence and ri­ot­ing by fringe el­e­ments of the gilets jaunes (yel­low vests) move­ment.

A gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial said 89,000 po­lice and gen­darmes would be mo­bilised across the coun­try, 8,000 of them in the French cap­i­tal, as well as a dozen VBRG ar­moured ve­hi­cles, rarely used in cities..

“We are fac­ing peo­ple who are not there to demon­strate, but are there to smash things up and we want to make sure we’re not leav­ing them to do what they want,” the prime minister, Édouard Philippe, said. Paris went into lock­down yesterday, as the city pre­pared for a fourth week­end of protests. Banks, shops, restau­rants and busi­nesses rushed to board up their premises to pro­tect win­dows from loot­ers.

At Place de la Bastille, which is un­der­go­ing pedes­tri­an­i­sa­tion, work­ers cleared away metal and con­crete bar­ri­ers and car­ried off any­thing that could be thrown. Staff at the Bastille Opéra were re­ported to have locked the orches­tra’s in­stru­ments some­where safe fear­ing an as­sault on the build­ing.

Parisiens, even those far from the Champs-Élysées, Arc de Tri­om­phe and Place de la Con­corde – the scenes of violent clashes in pre­vi­ous weeks – were ad­vised not to leave dust­bins on the streets for fear they could be set alight.

The prepa­ra­tions come af­ter the city ex­pe­ri­enced the worst un­rest in 50 years last Satur­day as groups of casseurs (hooli­gans) con­fronted riot po­lice, torched ve­hi­cles and looted shops.

The gilet jaunes move­ment started as a protest against a pro­posed rise in diesel and petrol tax, and takes its name from the yel­low hi-vis jack­ets mo­torists must carry in their cars. It grew into a wider anti-gov­ern­ment move­ment with di­verse de­mands, many as­so­ci­ated with liv­ing stan­dards. Mod­er­ate fac­tions have held peace­ful protests across the coun­try.

The pro­test­ers’ anger is di­rected at a pres­i­dent ac­cused of be­ing out of touch and a gov­ern­ment seen to rep­re­sent a po­lit­i­cal elite with no idea how la France d’en bas – the less well-off – live.

The as­so­ci­a­tion of ru­ral may­ors has asked lo­cal coun­cil­lors to keep town halls open to al­low “each cit­i­zen to ver­bally ex­press their anger”.

Min­is­ters have re­peated calls for calm and re­quested pro­test­ers stay away from the cap­i­tal, as have union lead­ers, op­po­si­tion par­ties and Ro­man Catholic clergy.

French me­dia re­ported that Em­manuel Macron, had re­fused a de­mand to meet “mod­er­ate” gilets jaunes at the Élysée. Ben­jamin Cauchy, an unof­fi­cial spokesman, said they had asked to see the pres­i­dent be­cause “in­sur­rec­tion is at the gates of France and we don’t want any deaths this week­end”. The Élysée re­sponded that the prime minister’s door “re­mained open”.

Macron has been silent since Wed­nes­day evening when he per­formed a sur­pris­ing volte-face on the fuel tax, an­nounc­ing it was be­ing can­celled, hours af­ter Philippe had told the Assem­blée Na­tionale it was be­ing frozen and “might” be aban­doned. Macron is ex­pected to give a tele­vised ad­dress at the begin­ning of next week.

Ef­forts to pre­pare for what gilets jaunes demon­stra­tors are call­ing Act IV of their ac­tion is ham­pered by the grass­roots move­ment hav­ing no for­mal or­gan­i­sa­tion or lead­er­ship, pos­ing a chal­lenge to the French au­thor­i­ties.

The in­sur­rec­tion is be­ing fur­ther fu­elled on so­cial me­dia web­sites by con­spir­acy the­o­ries and fake news, in­clud­ing false claims Macron is “sell­ing France” to the United Nations, World Bank or other in­ter­na­tional or­gan­i­sa­tions plan­ning to let mil­lions of mi­grants take over the coun­try.

The French gov­ern­ment has also de­ployed po­lice to deal with high school stu­dent protests. A video show­ing po­lice forc­ing stu­dents to kneel in rows with their arms be­hind their backs has caused shock and fur­ther crit­i­cism of the gov­ern­ment.

The ed­u­ca­tion minister, JeanMichel Blan­quer, de­fended the po­lice, say­ing: “There are shock­ing im­ages be­cause we are in a cli­mate of ex­cep­tional vi­o­lence.”

High school stu­dents protest­ing in France are made to kneel against the wall by the gen­darmerie. Footage of the scene has caused out­rage

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.