France braces for riots
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 the 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.
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 windows, making the plush Champs-Elysees neighborhood appear to be bracing for a hurricane.
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 a 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.
Stanislas Gaudon, head of the Alliance police union,, said that “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. “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.”
Since the unrest began Nov. 17 in response to a sharp increase in diesel taxes, four people have been killed in protestrelated 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 has not abated.