France girds for week­end protests

Chattanooga Times Free Press - - WORLD / NATION - BY SA­MUEL PE­TRE­QUIN AND SYLVIE COR­BET

PARIS — An­tic­i­pat­ing a fourth straight week­end of violent protests, France on Fri­day mo­bi­lized ar­mored ve­hi­cles and thou­sands of po­lice, cor­doned off Paris’ broad boule­vards and made plans to shut down tourist sites like the Eif­fel Tower and Lou­vre.

The heavy se­cu­rity will put cen­tral Paris in a vir­tual lock­down Satur­day against what the in­te­rior minister called “rad­i­cal­ized and re­bel­lious peo­ple,” who au­thor­i­ties be­lieve will join mem­bers of the “yel­low vest” move­ment that has been hold­ing anti-gov­ern­ment demon­stra­tions.

Na­tion­wide, about 89,000 po­lice will fan out in the streets, an in­crease from 65,000 last week­end, when more than 130 peo­ple were in­jured and over 400 ar­rested as the protests de­gen­er­ated into the worst street vi­o­lence to hit the French cap­i­tal in decades.

Fear­ing in­creas­ing vi­o­lence, hun­dreds of busi­nesses planned to close Satur­day, pre­fer­ring to lose a key hol­i­day shop­ping day rather than have stores smashed and looted, like they were a week ago when protests over ris­ing taxes turned into a riot. Work­ers ham­mered ply­wood over the win­dows of shops and busi­nesses, mak­ing the plush Champ­sEl­y­sees neigh­bor­hood ap­pear to be brac­ing for a hur­ri­cane.

“Ac­cord­ing to the in­for­ma­tion we have, some rad­i­cal­ized and re­bel­lious peo­ple will try to get mo­bi­lized to­mor­row,” In­te­rior Minister Christophe Cas­taner told a news con­fer­ence. “Some ul­tra-violent peo­ple want to take part.”

Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron met Fri­day night with about 60 anti-riot se­cu­rity of­fi­cers who will be de­ployed in Paris. He made the unan­nounced visit, with­out the press, to a fort used as mil­i­tary ac­com­mo­da­tion in No­gent-surMarne, east of Paris, and thanked the of­fi­cers for their work.

About 8,000 po­lice will be de­ployed across Paris, equipped with a dozen bar­ri­cade-bust­ing ar­mored ve­hi­cles that could be used for the first time in a French ur­ban area since ri­ots in 2005.

“These ve­hi­cles can be very use­ful to pro­tect build­ings,” said Stanis­las Gaudon, head of the Al­liance po­lice union. “And in case they set up bar­ri­cades, we can quickly clear out the space and let our units progress.”

Po­lice re­moved any ma­te­ri­als from the streets that could be used as weapons, es­pe­cially at con­struc­tion sites in high-risk ar­eas. Those in­cluded the renowned Champ­sEl­y­sees, which would nor­mally be packed with tourists and shop­pers.

“It’s with an im­mense sad­ness that we’ll see our city par­tially brought to a halt, but your safety is our pri­or­ity,” said Mayor Anne Hi­dalgo. “Take care of Paris on Satur­day be­cause Paris be­longs to all the French peo­ple.”

As it did last week­end, the U.S. Em­bassy ad­vised Amer­i­cans to avoid the demon­stra­tions.

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe sched­uled a Fri­day night meet­ing with representatives of the yel­low vest move­ment to try to open a di­a­logue, said gov­ern­ment spokesman Ben­jamin Griveaux.

Since the un­rest be­gan Nov. 17 in re­sponse to a sharp in­crease in diesel taxes, four peo­ple have been killed in protest-re­lated ac­ci­dents. Now the de­mands of the “yel­low vest” move­ment — named for the flu­o­res­cent safety gear that French mo­torists keep in their cars — is press­ing for a wider range of ben­e­fits from the gov­ern­ment to help work­ers, re­tirees and stu­dents.

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