Gilets jaunes protests: French minister warns of 'ultra-violent people' as Paris braces for further violence

Tens of thousands of police officers deployed as protesters march in Paris

Zamira Rahim
Saturday 08 December 2018 10:50
President Macron is heckled by onlookers as he visits damaged Arc de Triomphe after protests in Paris

France's interior minister has warned that "some ultra-violent people want to take part" in anti-government protests as Paris braces itself for another weekend of "gilet jaune" or "yellow vest" demonstrations.

"According to the information we have, some radicalised and rebellious people will try to get mobilised," said Christophe Castaner. "Some ultra-violent people want to take part."

Demonstrations began peacefully, as hundreds of people marched down the Champs -Elysees avenue in the centre of the French capital.

But the Eiffel Tower and Louvre Museum were shut down, along with hundreds of stores and businesses, as a precaution against damage from further unrest, as 89,000 members of the security forces were deployed across the country, including 8,000 police officers in Paris alone.

A Paris police spokesperson said that 300 people had already been detained on suspicion of planning violence. Most were later released, they added.

Last weekend saw the worst rioting in a generation occur in the French capital, with around 130 people injured and 412 arrested.

The "yellow vest" movement, which has stunned France, began as a show of resistance against a rise in fuel taxes but the protests have quickly expanded to encompass general anger at Emmanuel Macron's government and frustration at the cost of living.

The movement takes its name from the fluorescent safety vests that French drivers are required to keep in their cars.

French president Emmanuel Macron has abandoned the controversial fuel tax rise which sparked the protests, but the concession has done little quell public anger at his government and policies.

Some members of the movement have however, called for calm and struck a conciliatory note on Friday after meeting Edouard Philippe, the French prime minister.

The protesters have no clear leader and officials warned that the popular movement could be hijacked by extremists.

Protesters march in central Paris on Saturday

Mr Macron, the focus of much public anger, has kept a low profile over the last few days allowing Mr Philippe to lead negotiations with the protesters.

Four people have been killed in the unrest and fears of violence have caused Christmas markets, national football matches and countless other events to be cancelled.

"It's with an immense sadness that we'll see our city partially brought to a halt, but your safety is our priority," Anne Hidalgo, Paris' mayor said. "Take care of Paris on Saturday because Paris belongs to all the French people."

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The anti-government protests have now spread to Belgium and the Netherlands.

Hundreds of police officers have also been deployed in Brussels after protesters clashed with officers last week and torched two police vehicles.

Additional reporting by agencies

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