France girds for week­end protests, fear­ing more vi­o­lence

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - NEWS - 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 Champs-El­y­sees 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-sur-Marne, 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 Champs-El­y­sees, 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.

Macron on Wed­nes­day agreed to aban­don the fuel tax in­crease, but the protesters’ anger at his gov­ern­ment has not abated. Macron, since re­turn­ing from the G-20 meet­ing last week­end, has kept largely out of sight, a move that has puz­zled sup­port­ers and crit­ics.

He has left his un­pop­u­lar gov­ern­ment to try to calm the na­tion. In re­sponse, “Macron, re­sign!” has be­come the main slo­gan of the “yel­low vest” demon­stra­tors.

The 40-year-old leader mostly spent the week hold­ing closed-door meet­ings in the El­y­see pres­i­den­tial palace, and many protesters con­sider him to be hid­ing from the peo­ple.

Stu­dents op­pos­ing changes in key high school tests protested again Fri­day, a day af­ter video that was shared widely on so­cial me­dia showed the ar­rest of high school pupils out­side Paris and prompted an out­cry. Trade unions and far-left par­ties have lashed out at per­ceived po­lice bru­tal­ity.

The im­ages, filmed Thurs­day at Mantes-la-Jolie, showed stu­dents on their knees with their hands be­hind their head, be­ing watched over by armed, masked po­lice.

THIBAULT CA­MUS — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

A bin is burn­ing as school chil­dren de­mon­strate in Paris, Fri­day. Footage show­ing the bru­tal ar­rest of high school stu­dents protest­ing out­side Paris is caus­ing a stir ahead of fur­ther anti-gov­ern­ment protests this week­end.

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