France girds for weekend protests, fearing more violence

Laurie Garrett

The heavy security will put central Paris in a virtual lockdown Saturday against what the interior minister called "radicalized and rebellious people", who authorities believe will join members of the "gilets jaunes", or "yellow vest", movement that has been holding anti-government demonstrations.

Responding to the images, socialist leader Olivier Faure tweeted: "Whatever wrong was done, nothing justifies this filmed humiliation of minors".

"We're the ones who are going to eventually have to pay higher fuel prices", said Ines, one of around 150 high school students demonstrating in the southern Paris suburb of Cachan. Shops, schools and some other public venues are set to close over fears of clashes between police and the protesters.

The Eiffel Tower and other tourist landmarks in Paris were shut on Saturday, shops were boarded up to avoid looting and street furniture removed to prevent metal bars from being used as projectiles.

But he too described the videos as "shocking", telling Franceinfo radio: "It's right to be angry, looking at these images".

Several museums near the Champs-Elysees and the Arc de Triomphe, which was severely damaged during the violence, said they will remain closed on Saturday, and some schools in the area have called off Saturday classes.

He said the protests had "created a monster" and vowed a zero-tolerance approach by police to violence.

Protests at some 280 schools against stricter university entrance requirements have added to a sense of general revolt in France as the "yellow vest" protests rumble on.

Saturday's protests are the latest part of the Yellow Jackets movement, named after the neon-yellow security vests demonstrators have been wearing and that motorists are required by law to have in their vehicles.

The government is scrambling to stave off another Saturday of burned cars and running street battles with police by "yellow vest" protesters furious over rising costs of living they blame on high taxes.

Hailing mostly from rural and small-town France, they say Macron is out of touch with ordinary people.

Six Ligue 1 football games, one involving Paris Saint-Germain, have been postponed.

The move is likely to cost thousands of euros in lost revenue as tourists and locals stay clear for a second holiday weekend in a row.

Four people have died in accidents during the "yellow vest" protests and political leaders from across the spectrum have appealed for calm.

In a sign the concessions offered by the government may be starting to weaken support for the movement, two opinion polls showed a decline in popularity for the "yellow vests" on Friday.

Macron this week gave in to some of the protesters´ demands for measures to help the poor and struggling middle classes, including scrapping a planned increase in fuel taxes and freezing electricity and gas prices in 2019.

The climbdown over the fuel tax - meant to help France move to a greener economy - marks a major shift for Mr Macron, who has previously vowed not to be swayed, like previous presidents, by large street protests.

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said the government was ready to consider "any measure which would allow us to boost spending power".

But Macron's office said he would stick to his decision to cut a "fortune tax" on high-earners, which the former investment banker abolished past year.

That decision is deeply unpopular with protesters and together with a series of comments, viewed as insensitive to ordinary workers, has led critics to dub Mr Macron a "president of the rich".

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