French au­thor­i­ties fear more vi­o­lence to come

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PARIS — French au­thor­i­ties are wor­ried that an­other wave of “great vi­o­lence” and ri­ot­ing will be un­leashed in Paris this week­end by a hard core of sev­eral thou­sand ’yel­low vest’ protesters, an of­fi­cial in the French pres­i­dency said yes­ter­day.

De­spite ca­pit­u­lat­ing t his week over plans for fuel taxes that in­spired the na­tion­wide re­volt, Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron has strug­gled to quell the anger that led to the worst street un­rest in cen­tral Paris since 1968.

Riot­ers torched cars, shat­tered win­dows, looted shops and sprayed and anti-Macron graffiti across some of Paris’s most af­flu- ent dis­tricts, even de­fac­ing the Arc de Tri­om­phe. Scores of peo­ple were hurt and hun­dreds ar­rested in bat­tles with po­lice.

Prime Min­is­ter Edouard Philippe an­nounced l ate on Wed­nes­day that he was scrap­ping the fuel-tax in­creases planned for 2019, hav­ing an­nounced a six­month sus­pen­sion the day be­fore, in a des­per­ate bid to defuse the worst cri­sis of Macron’s pres­i­dency.

The El­y­see of­fi­cial said in­tel­li­gence sug­gested that some protesters would come to the cap­i­tal “to van­dalise and to kill”.

The threat of more vi­o­lence poses a se­cu­rity night­mare for the au­thor­i­ties, who make a dis­tinc- tion be­tween peace­ful ’yel­low vest’ protesters and vi­o­lent groups, an­ar­chists and loot­ers from the de­prived sub­urbs who they say have in­fil­trated the move­ment.

The yel­low vest protests, named for flu­o­res­cent jack­ets French mo­torists are re­quired to keep in their cars, erupted in Novem­ber over the squeeze on house­hold bud­gets caused by fuel taxes. Demon­stra­tions swiftly grew into a broad, some­times-vi­o­lent re­bel­lion against Macron, with no for­mal leader.

Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter JeanMichel Blan­quer urged peo­ple to stay at home dur­ing the com­ing week­end. Se­cu­rity sources said

The fuel-tax volte-face was the first ma­jor U-turn of Macron’s 18-month pres­i­dency and points to an ad­min­is­tra­tion scram­bling to re­gain the ini­tia­tive as dis­en­chanted ci­ti­zens feel em­bold­ened on the streets.

The un­rest has ex­posed the deep-seated re­sent­ment among non-city dwellers that Macron is out-of-touch with t he hard­pressed mid­dle class and bluecol­lar labour­ers. They see the 40year-old former i nvestment banker as closer to big busi­ness.

Trou­ble is also brew­ing else­where for Macron: col­lege stu­dents are ag­i­tat­ing, farm­ers who have long com­plained that re­tail­ers are squeez­ing their mar­gins and are fu­ri­ous over a de­lay to the planned rise in min­i­mum food prices, and truck­ers are threat­en­ing to strike from Sun­day.

Fi­nance Min­is­ter Bruno Le Maire said he was com­mit­ted to “fis­cal jus­tice” and yes­ter­day an­nounced France would uni­lat­er­ally im­pose a tax on big in­ter­net com­pa­nies if Euro­pean Union mem­bers failed to reach an agree­ment on a bloc-wide levy. — REUTERS

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