France to close Eiffel Tower, Louvre amid fears of ‘yellow vest’ violence

Paris takes action amid calls for another wave of protests over living costs

 Riot police vans take up positions  near the Eiffel Tower,  in Paris, France, on December 1st, 2018. Photograph: Etienne Laurent/EPA

Riot police vans take up positions near the Eiffel Tower, in Paris, France, on December 1st, 2018. Photograph: Etienne Laurent/EPA

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France will close the Eiffel Tower and other tourism landmarks in Paris and draft in thousands more security forces on Saturday to stave off another wave of violent protests in the country over living costs.

With protesters from the “yellow vest” movement calling on social media for “Act IV” – a fourth weekend of protest – prime minister Édouard Philippe said 89,000 police would be deployed nationwide to stop a repeat of last Saturday’s mayhem across France.

About 8,000 of these will be deployed in Paris, where rioters torched cars and looted shops off the famed Champs-Élysées boulevard, and defaced the Arc de Triomphe with graffiti directed at president Emmanuel Macron.

Seeking to regain the initiative after weeks of civil unrest, the government appeared ready to offer concessions.

Mr Philippe told the senate he was open to new measures to help the lowest-paid workers, while minister for finance Bruno Le Maire said he was prepared to accelerate tax cuts for households and that he wanted workers’ bonuses to be tax-free.

“I am ready to look at all measures that will help raise the pay of those on the minimum wage without doing excessive damage to our competitiveness and businesses,” Mr Philippe told the parliament’s upper house.

The rush of sweeteners to soothe public anger began with Mr Philippe’s climbdown on fuel-tax hikes, the first major U-turn of Mr Macron’s presidency.

Yet, five days after the worst rioting central Paris has seen since 1968, all signs are that the government has failed to quell the revolt.

A repeat of last Saturday’s violence in Paris’s city centre would deal a blow to the economy and raise doubts over the government’s survival.

Mr Philippe said the state would do all it could to maintain order.

Matches cancelled

Six first division football matches in the coming days have been cancelled.

Authorities in Paris ordered dozens of museums, tourist sites, shops and restaurants to close on Saturday, including the Eiffel Tower and Louvre.

“We are facing people who are not here to protest, but to smash, and we want to have the means to not give them a free rein,” Mr Philippe told TF1 television’s evening news programme.

As well as increased police numbers, 12 armoured vehicles belonging to the gendarmerie will be used for the first time in a French city since 2005, when riots broke out in the capital’s suburbs.

There is concern about the possible presence of far-right, anarchist and anti-capitalist groups like the Black Bloc, which have piggybacked off the “yellow vest” movement.

The government is also considering using troops currently deployed on anti-terrorism patrols to protect public buildings.

Other urban centres across the country, including Bordeaux, ordered pre-emptive measures over concerns that protesters may opt to rally regionally rather than face tightened security in Paris.

On Facebook and across social media, protesters called for “Act IV”.

“France is fed up!! We will be there in bigger numbers, stronger, standing up for French people. Meet in Paris on Dec 8,” read a message from one group.

Safety jackets

The “yellow vest” protests, named after the fluorescent safety jackets French motorists have to keep in their cars, erupted in November over the squeeze on household budgets caused by rising fuel taxes. Demonstrations swiftly grew into a broad, sometimes violent rebellion against Mr Macron, with no formal leader.

Their demands are diverse and include lower taxes, higher salaries, cheaper energy costs, better retirement provisions and even Mr Macron’s resignation.

Reversing course on next year’s fuel-tax hikes has left a gaping €4 billion hole in the government’s 2019 budget for which it is now searching for a plug.

The unrest has exposed the deep-seated belief among non-city dwellers that Mr Macron, whose popularity is now at about 20 per cent, is out-of-touch with the hard-pressed middle-class and blue-collar workers. They see the 40-year-old former investment banker as closer to big business.

Farmers and truckers are also threatening blockages and strikes from Sunday. – Reuters

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