French police brace for more violent riots
‘Yellow vest’ protests have hurt monuments, Macron’s popularity
PARIS — France prepared Friday for a fourth iteration of violent protests that have rocked the government of President Emmanuel Macron in recent weeks. Authorities announced that nearly 89,000 police officers would be dispatched throughout the country during the weekend, while many popular attractions announced unusual closures.
After nearly a month of weekend riots, the “yellow vest” movement — originally launched as a response to a carbon tax designed to curb climate change — has come to represent the most grave political crisis France has seen in years. The anger reached a fever pitch in Paris last weekend, when protesters burned cars, desecrated historical monuments and clashed with police in violent exchanges unseen since the upheavals of 1968.
On Wednesday, the government agreed to withdraw the contentious carbon tax, but the yellow vests have vowed to continue the violence regardless. Tensions mounted further Friday after footage of a standoff between French police and a group of arrested high school students who had threatened them went viral on social media.
On Friday, the French government sought to diffuse widespread anxieties over another crippling riot. Christophe Castaner, France’s interior minister, said that the movement only featured about 10,000 members but the weekend demonstrations would feature some ultraviolent people. “That’s not France,” he said.
The source of the Interior Ministry’s statistics was unclear: As of Friday afternoon, one of the yellow vest movement’s Facebook groups had more than 156,000 members, and was active with a seemingly constant stream of new posts, polls and live videos. An affiliated Facebook group had more than 280,000 members.
Of the 89,000 officers to be dispatched throughout France, 8,000 will be on patrol in Paris. This weekend’s security presence will represent a significant increase from last weekend, when 65,000 officers were on duty.
For the moment, Macron, whose approval ratings continue to fall — this week to as low as 23 percent — has not yet weighed in on the coming protests. An Elysee Palace official told The Washington Post that the French leader would speak sometime early next week but could provide no further details.
In Paris, locals braced for the worst.
A network of 39 municipal hospitals announced a “reinforced vigilance plan” for Saturday that included extra emergency capacities: 162 were injured and treated in local hospitals last weekend. Shopkeepers, meanwhile, boarded up store windows during a weekend that would normally feature prime holiday shopping. Authorities barricaded streets.
In a statement Friday morning, France’s national monuments association announced that the Arc de Triomphe and many other popular sites would close Saturday. The Louvre Museum, the Orsay Museum and many other sites also announced closures.
Gendarmes show French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner, second from right, one of a dozen armored vehicles that, along with 8,000 officers, will be deployed to Paris for weekend protests.