Paris protests: Eiffel Tower closes and 90,000 police to be deployed as French capital braces for worst 'yellow vests' protests yet

'These last three weeks have created a monster', interior minister says

Chiara Giordano
Friday 07 December 2018 17:52 GMT
Police fire tear gas on 'gilet jaunes' protesters at Champs Elysees

The Eiffel Tower and Louvre are closing their doors to the public and almost 90,000 police officers are poised, as Paris braces for what could be the most violent protest in weeks.

France’s capital has been plagued by unrest since 17 November as anti-government protesters react to a sharp spike in diesel taxes.

So far four people have been killed in accidents, and dozens injured in the “yellow vests” movement – in reference to the fluorescent safety outfit French motorists keep in their cars.

And protesters are now billing their planned action on Saturday as “Act IV” of the worst unrest seen in the capital since the 1968 student riots.

Interior minister Christophe Castaner said the three-week revolt had “created a monster” and vowed police would have no tolerance for violence.

“According to the information we have, some radicalised and rebellious people will try to get mobilised tomorrow,” he told reporters on Friday.

“These last three weeks have created a monster. Our security forces will respond with firmness and I will have no tolerance for anyone who capitalises on the distress of our citizens.”

In Paris alone, 8,000 police officers will be mobilised.

They will be equipped with a dozen armoured vehicles equipped to clear barricades – a first in a French urban area since 2005.

Senior allies of French president Emmanuel Macron – who has now scrapped the fuel tax rise in response to the protests – have said he will address the nation early next week.

Navigating his biggest crisis since being elected 18 months ago, Mr Macron has left it largely to his prime minister, Edouard Philippe, to deal in public with the turmoil and offer concessions.

Men install wooden panels to protect a bank ahead of the national anti-governmental protest to be held on 8 December by the so-called Gilets Jaunes (Yellow Vest) movement in Paris
Men install wooden panels to protect a bank ahead of the national anti-governmental protest to be held on 8 December by the so-called Gilets Jaunes (Yellow Vest) movement in Paris (EPA)

“The president will speak early next week,” transport minister Elisabeth Borne told Sud Radio on Friday. “I think this is what the French people want, they want answers.”

Mr Macron has not spoken in public since he condemned last Saturday’s disturbances while at the G20 summit in Argentina.

At the height of the festive shopping season, many Paris store owners have boarded up their shop fronts and say they will remain shut on Saturday for fear they may get caught between any unrest between protesters and police.

Meanwhile, fearing protesters could turn street furniture and construction site material into makeshift weapons, police have been removing all glass containers, railings and heavy machinery set up in high-risk areas.

Among these is the world-renowned Champs-Elysees avenue, which would normally be packed with tourists and shoppers on a Saturday in early December.

The Nicolas wine chain, one of the biggest retailers in the country, cancelled all its wine tasting sessions scheduled for Saturday.

“It’s with an immense sadness that we’ll see our city partially brought to a halt, but your safety is our priority,“ Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo said.

“Take care of Paris on Saturday because Paris belongs to all the French people.”

Students demonstrate against the increase of the subscription fees for foreigners students, in Paris
Students demonstrate against the increase of the subscription fees for foreigners students, in Paris (EPA)

Across the country some 89,000 police will be mobilised, up from 65,000 last weekend when more than 130 people were injured and over 400 were arrested as protests descended into the worst street violence to hit Paris in decades.

Authorities have also cancelled six French league football matches around the country.

Amid the unrest, some protesters, French union officials and prominent politicians across the political spectrum have urged calm especially as Mr Macron agreed to abandon the fuel tax hike that triggered the movement.

However, protesters’ demands have now moved on to other issues affecting French workers, pensioners and students.

Students opposing an education reform protested again Friday, a day after footage widely shared on social media showing the arrest of high school students protesting outside Paris prompted an outcry.

The images, filmed Thursday at Mantes-la-Jolie, showed a group of students on their knees with their hands behind their head as they were watched over by armed police officers wearing ski masks.

Mr Castaner, the interior minister, said 151 people were arrested in the small town, adding that some of them carried weapons. He said none of the students were injured.

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The rioting has also had an economic impact at the height of the holiday shopping season.

Rampaging groups last weekend threw cobblestones through Paris storefronts and looted valuables in some of the city’s richest neighbourhoods.

Retailers have lost about €1bn in revenue since the protests erupted, the retail federation said.

And the National Federation of French markets said Christmas markets had been “strongly impacted” and its members registered “an average fall of their estimated figures between 30 and 40 per cent since the beginning of the movement of the yellow vests”.

In addition to the closure of the Eiffel Tower, many shops and museums across France, including the Louvre, Orsay Museum and the Grand Palais, will keep their doors shut on Saturday for safety reasons.

Additional reporting by agencies

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