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France bracing for fresh violence

China Daily | Updated: 2018-12-08 08:08

A worker covers the windows of a vandalized BNP Paribas bank branch in Paris on Thursday, to prepare for a "yellow vest" demonstration on Saturday. [Photo/IC]

Shops, museums and Eiffel Tower to close amid fears

PARIS-The Eiffel Tower, the Louvre museum and scores of shops on the Champs-Elysees were set to close as authorities had warned of fresh violence this weekend during protests which have ballooned into the biggest crisis of Emmanuel Macron's presidency.

The government is scrambling to stave off another on Saturday of burned cars and running street battles with police by "yellow vest" protesters furious over rising costs of living they blame on high taxes.

An Interior Ministry official said that authorities were bracing for "significant violence" on Saturday, based on indications that protesters on both the far right and far left are planning to converge on the capital.

Officials fear they could be joined by hooligans set on rioting and looting, as is widely thought to have been the case last weekend.

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said 8,000 police would be deployed in Paris alongside a dozen armored vehicles-not used in urban areas since suburban youth riots in 2005-for crowd control as part of "exceptional" measures to contain the risk of violence.

He also reiterated his appeal for calm, saying in a prime-time TV interview that the government was ready to consider "any measure which would allow us to boost spending power".

Across the country, about 89,000 police will be mobilized, up from 65,000 last weekend, when the nation was rocked by daylong scenes of urban unrest in Paris.

But so far the "yellow vest" movement shows no signs of losing steam, despite the government's rollback of planned fuel tax hikes for January, one of the protesters' core demands. And in a move questioned by both critics and supporters, the president himself has disappeared from public view.

Shops and businesses along and near the famous Champs-Elysees were told to keep their doors closed, protect exposed windows and remove outdoor furniture, according to police notices.

The move is likely to cost thousands of euros in lost revenue as tourists and locals stay clear for a second holiday weekend in a row.

Both the Garnier and Bastille opera houses have canceled performances on Saturday and the doors of major museums will be shut. Six Ligue 1 soccer games scheduled for Saturday have been postponed.

The "yellow vest" protests began on Nov 17 in opposition to rising fuel taxes, but they have since expanded into a broad challenge to Macron's pro-business agenda and style of governing.

The protesters, mainly from small-town and rural France, have broad public support, with an opinion poll this week showing 72 percent backed the demonstrations despite last weekend's violence.

The movement has spurred other protests, in particular students demanding an end to testing overhauls and stricter university entrance requirements.

Nearly 280 high schools were disrupted, 45 of which were blocked, in protests across France on Thursday, with more than 700 students detained by police, a source said.

Dozens of people wearing face masks threw Molotov cocktails, torched rubbish bins and clashed with police outside schools in several cities. "We're the ones who are going to eventually have to pay higher fuel prices," said Ines, one of around 150 high school students demonstrating in the southern Paris suburb of Cachan.

Farmers have also called for demonstrations every day next week, while two truck driver unions plan an indefinite sympathy strike from Sunday night.

AFP-AP

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