Tuesday, 11 Dec 2018

Paris fears new protest violence despite withdrawal of Macron

PARIS – Paris police and merchants are preparing for further violence at Saturday's protests, despite President Emmanuel Macron's capitulation following an increase in the gas tax that triggered weeks of unrest.

Police unions and local authorities are holding emergency meetings on Thursday to develop strategies, while disparate groups of protesters share the same plans on social networks and discussion groups.

After the worst riots in Paris for decades last weekend, many shops and restaurants in the center of the capital should close Saturday, fearing a repeat of the violence.

Macron agreed on Wednesday to drop the gas tax hike, but protesters' claims spread to other issues.

Protestant students are disrupting schools and universities on Thursday, and motorists are still blocking roads in France, now demanding bigger tax cuts and government aid.

A small union representing police administrative staff called for a strike on Saturday, which could further complicate the security measures taken on Saturday. Other police unions do not talk about a strike, but everyone is concerned about the security risks of a movement without clear leaders whose manifestations are easily diverted by troublemakers of all stripes.

Police have been criticized for failing to prevent damage to the Arc de Triomphe and stores along the famous Champs-Elysees in central Paris, as well as violence against protesters.

Social media videos showing police beating protesters in front of a Burger King on the Champs-Élysées added to the anger. A police spokeswoman said Thursday that an investigation was underway on this incident and that the police were reviewing other videos shared online to detect possible violations.

Macron itself, the central target of the protests, was largely invisible all week. After winning the overwhelming election of last year, the 40-year-old business centrist has alienated many of his constituents by cutting the taxes of the rich and putting in place poorly-explained reforms. that many consider as an elitist attitude and disconnected from its means.

The riots in Paris worried tourists and harmed the local economy at the height of the Christmas season. Raging groups threw cobblestones through storefronts and looted valuables from some of the city's wealthiest neighborhoods.

Clément Rozey, manager of a motorcycle shop in western Paris, spent two days and two nights cleaning it after being helpless in front of a group of thugs who smashed the windows of his shop and emptied his shelves.

He climbed into the store and will remain closed on Saturday.

"We are going to have a security company with security guards inside and outside the store," Rozey said. "Everything has been closed, many times."

Yet he remains sympathetic to the protest movement.

"Like everyone else, we are strangled (financially) after the 15th of the month," he told the Associated Press, referring to the day when many workers are paid. The demonstrators "defend a cause, they follow it rightly. We support them wholeheartedly, "he said. But violent troublemakers who loot and revolt – "it's something else".

Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, disseminated, rewritten or redistributed.


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