PARIS – France has prepared Saturday for a fourth wave of violent protests that have shaken the government of President Emmanuel Macron in recent weeks. The authorities announced that 278 protesters had already been arrested before 9 am and that nearly 89,000 police officers were sent across the country.
After almost a month of weekend riots, the movement of the "yellow jacket", originally launched in response to a carbon tax aimed at fighting climate change, has become the most a serious political crisis that France has known for years. Anger reached its peak in Paris last weekend when protesters burned cars, desecrated historic monuments and clashed with police during violent exchanges unseen since the upheavals of 1968.
On Wednesday, the government agreed to withdraw the controversial carbon tax, but the yellow vests pledged to continue the violence despite everything. Tensions rose further on Friday after the recording of a confrontation between the French police and a group of high school students arrested who had threatened them, which became viral on social media.
On Friday, the French government sought to dispel the widespread fears of a disabling new riot. Christophe Castaner, French Minister of the Interior, said the movement had only about 10,000 members, but the weekend protests would feature ultra-violent people. "It's not France," he said.
The source of the statistics of the Ministry of the Interior was unclear. On Friday afternoon, one of the Yellow Jacket movement Facebook groups had more than 156,000 members and was active with a seemingly constant stream of new messages, polls and live video. An affiliated Facebook group has more than 280,000 members.
Of the 89,000 officers spread throughout France, 8,000 patrol in Paris. The security presence this weekend will represent a significant increase over last weekend, while 65,000 officers were on duty.
For now, Macron, whose approval ratings continue to fall – this week, just 23% – has not yet taken into account the upcoming events. An Elysee official told the Washington Post that the French leader would speak early in the course of next week but could not provide any other details.
In Paris, the inhabitants were preparing for the worst.
A network of 39 municipal hospitals announced a "plan of enhanced vigilance" for Saturday, which provided for additional emergency capacity: 162 wounded were treated in local hospitals last weekend. Traders, meanwhile, closed the windows for a weekend, which would normally allow them to do their shopping holiday. The authorities have barricaded the streets.
In a statement Friday morning, the Association of French National Monuments announced the closure of the Arc de Triomphe and many other popular sites on Saturday. The Louvre Museum, the Musée d'Orsay and many other sites have also announced closures.
Quentin Ariès contributed to this report.