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'Yellow vests' urged to halt action

China Daily | Updated: 2018-12-14 09:28

French soldiers patrol in front of the Eiffel Tower on Wednesday in Paris, after a shooting on Tuesday in Strasbourg. GETTY IMAGES

Strasbourg shooter did not leave French territory, still at large

PARIS - The French government on Thursday urged "yellow vest" protesters to refrain from holding another round of demonstrations this weekend, citing the strain on security forces on high alert after the terror attack at a Christmas market in Strasbourg.

"For now we have not banned the demonstrations" which some protesters have called for on Saturday, government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux told CNews television.

But he called on the protesters to be "reasonable" after President Emmanuel Macron offered a range of financial relief on Monday, including a minimum wage boost and a tax cut for low-income pensioners.

"Our security forces have been deployed extensively these past few weeks," Griveaux said, while insisting that "it's not up to us to say if the movement should be called off or not".

In the wake of the Strasbourg attack, "it would be better if everyone could go about their business calmly on Saturday, before the year-end celebrations with their families, instead of demonstrating and putting our security forces to work once again", he said.

The "yellow vest" protests began on Nov 17 over fuel tax increases but quickly evolved into a widespread revolt over declining living standards as well as Macron's perceived indifference to the problems of ordinary citizens.

Even before Monday's concessions, the government had scrapped a fuel tax hike slated for January, a core demand of the protesters, who mainly live in rural areas and smaller towns and rely heavily on their cars.

Along with road barricades in many parts of the country, protesters have converged on Paris every Saturday since Nov 17, sparking clashes with police and intense vandalism which have shocked the country.

Last Saturday, nearly 90,000 police were mobilized across the country for the protests, with 8,000 officers and a dozen armored vehicles deployed in the capital where scores of stores, museums and monuments were closed.

But protesters still smashed windows, looted stores and burned dozens of cars in many parts of the city.

While some of the movement's representatives have said they are open to halting the protests to negotiate with the government, others have said its concessions are not enough, and have vowed to protest again in Paris this weekend.

Meanwhile, the armed man suspected of killing two people and wounding several others in the French city of Strasbourg on Tuesday evening did not cross the German border and was still at large in French territory, Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said on Wednesday.

The authorities were relentless in the search for the suspect, who they had thought was in Germany, Castaner told lawmakers.

A total of 720 police officers, supported by two helicopters, staged a huge manhunt for the attacker, who escaped after shooting passers-by in the center of Strasbourg.

France raised its security threat level to highest, strengthening controls along its border with Germany, where agents from both countries stepped up checks of motorists' identity and vehicles crossing the Rhine river.

Twenty-four hours after the attack, French police are appealing for information leading to the shooter's whereabouts and advising people "not to intervene alone".

The suspect is identified as Cherif Chekatt, 29. He has a criminal record and was known to intelligence services as "at risk for radicalization". He had been convicted 27 times in France, Germany and Switzerland for common law offenses, including armed robberies.

France remains a top target of terror attacks. Three years ago, a series of coordinated attacks, claimed by the Islamic State terror group, targeted bars, a concert hall and a soccer stadium in the French capital. About 130 people were killed and more than 350 others were wounded.

"Terrorism risk is omnipresent and we remain at a high alert level even if attacks have changed shape," Castaner told MPs.

AFP - Xinhua - AP

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