….If you’re heading to Paris this weekend, it may be a good idea to pack a gas mask and some heavy-duty protective gear.
A week after Yellow Jacket protesters ransacked shops along the Champs-Élysées and defaced a statue of what some thought was Marianne on the Arc de Triomphe, the anti-Macron movement is preparing for another round of protests in the French capital.
This time, authorities are ready to face them down in what looks set to be a defining showdown between police and a grassroots movement that has no clear leader or political affiliation.
In an exceptional peacetime deployment of security forces, President Emmanuel Macron’s government is mobilizing nearly 90,000 police and gendarmes across the country, as well as heavy armored vehicles in the capital.
Much of the security effort is focused on Paris, where the worst clashes are expected and where the prefecture has ordered the shutdown of the entire Champs-Élysées area to all but pedestrian traffic, with all visitors subject to bag searches and “systematic” ID checks.
Along the avenue, which last week was overrun with Yellow Jacket protesters, shops are boarding up their fronts and closing down in anticipation of further violence.
Some 10 museums — including the Louvre — plus the Eiffel Tower and big department stores around the city have also announced they are closing down on Saturday to avoid damage.
“Politicized and radicalized elements are trying to exploit the movement” — Benjamin Griveaux, French government spokesman.
The government reportedly debated stationing army personnel to guard monuments and institutions, but instead opted to deploy a dozen heavy armored vehicles belonging to the gendarmerie at key points around the capital, namely around the Champs-Élysées Avenue and the streets leading to the Elysée presidential palace.
To justify what Interior Minister Christophe Castaner called a “total” police mobilization across the country, ministers warned that radical Yellow Jacket protesters are trying to do nothing less than to topple Macron’s government through violence.
“Politicized and radicalized elements are trying to exploit the movement,” said Benjamin Griveaux, the government’s spokesman.
“These people want to topple the government … To any violent attacks, there will be a proportionate and determined response.”
DCO Global News learnt that the Yellow Jacket movement, which started on social media in response to a planned fuel-tax hike, has no official leader nor affiliation to any trade union or political party.
The Eiffel tower will be closed to visitors this Saturday reports says.
But Eric Drouet, a 33-year-old truck driver who has become its de facto spokesman, said on TV this week that protesters would seek to “enter” the Elysée presidential palace on Saturday.
Such rhetoric has prompted fears that protesters will attempt to break their way into institutions and bring down the government by force.
“This is an attempted coup,” Le Figaro daily cited a presidential source as saying.
Macron ‘to make announcements’
In the eye of the storm is Macron, the 40-year-old president whose popularity ratings have plummeted to the mid-20s amid frustration with his reforms and perceptions that they mainly benefit the wealthy.
Supported by a clear but falling majority of French people, according to polls, the Yellow Jackets’ anger is focused primarily on Macron himself, whom they accuse of ignoring the plight of workers in rural and peri-urban areas who struggle to pay for gas, find jobs and earn a decent living.
This weekend, authorities are expecting a smaller number of protesters in Paris, but a highly motivated hard core set on clashing with police.
The president, whose government is also under fire over alleged heavy-handedness following a viral video of students being forced to kneel by police, has so far said little in public in response to the movement.
He was stony faced last weekend upon his return from a G20 meeting in Argentina as he surveyed damage in the streets of Paris.
But the president is expected to make a public address after this latest round of protests — the fourth — and may be preparing to make announcements geared at improving the purchasing power of average French workers.
“We’ll have to put more sense and coherence into the government’s actions and its rhetoric” — Agriculture Minister Didier Guillaume
Prime Minister Edouard Philippe has already announced the rollback of the planned fuel-tax hike — a measure that protesters say is too little, too late.
Indeed, as the Yellow Jackets movement gained momentum, its backers have expanded their list of demands. A 42-point document now demands everything from France’s withdrawal from the European Union and NATO to the abolition of homelessness to bringing down the retirement age to 60.
“I think that tomorrow, after the protests, something else will have to be said,” Agriculture Minister Didier Guillaume said on BFMTV this week. “We’ll have to put more sense and coherence into the government’s actions and its rhetoric.”
“Next week, when the president speaks, he will make a speech to the people, he should announce a series of measures,” added the minister who said this was not an announcement but his own “position.”
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