PARIS — The Eiffel Tower and the Louvre museum in Paris will be closed on Saturday as French authorities tighten security to prevent another outbreak of violence following three weeks of anti-government protests.
And at the height of the festive shopping season, many retailers have said they will remain shut for the day for fear they may be in the line of any unrest between protesters and police.
In addition to the 8,000 police forces that will be deployed in the French capital city, the Paris police prefect has identified 14 high-risk sectors that will be cleared out.
Fearing protesters could target street furniture and use material found at construction sites as makeshift weapons, Paris police will remove all the glass containers, railings and building machines set up in the identified sectors which include the world-renowned and glitzy Champs-Elysees avenue.
“According to the information we have, some radicalized and rebellious people will try to get mobilized tomorrow,” Interior minister Christophe Castaner told a press conference on Friday. “Some ultra-violent people want to take part.”
Many shop owners across the French capital are getting ready for the violence, setting up walls with carton boards to protect their windows. Meanwhile, the Nicolas wine chain, one of the biggest retailers in the country, cancelled all its wine tasting sessions scheduled for Saturday.
Across the country some 89,000 police will be mobilized, up from 65,000 last weekend when more than 130 people were injured and over 400 were arrested in the worst street violence seen in Paris in decades. And authorities have also cancelled six French league soccer matches this weekend around the country.
Since the unrest began on Nov. 17 in reaction to a sharp increase in diesel taxes, four people have been killed in accidents.
The protesters are collectively referred to as the “yellow vest” movement, in reference to the fluorescent safety outfit French motorists keep in their cars.
Amid the unrest, some of the protesters, French union officials and prominent politicians across the political spectrum have urged calm especially as French President Emmanuel Macron agreed to abandon the fuel tax hike that triggered the movement. However, protesters’ demands have now expanded to other issues hurting French workers, retirees and students.
Students opposing an education reform protested again Friday, a day after footage widely shared on social media showing the arrest of high school students protesting outside Paris prompted an outcry. Trade unions and far-left parties have lashed out at perceived police brutality.
The images, filmed Thursday at Mantes-la-Jolie, showed a group of students on their knees with their hands behind their head. They are being watched over by armed police officers whose faces are hidden by ski masks.
Interior minister Christophe Castaner said that 151 people were arrested in the small town, adding that some of them carried weapons. He said none of the students were injured.
The rioting has also had an economic impact at the height of the holiday shopping season. Rampaging groups last weekend threw cobblestones through Paris storefronts and looted valuables in some of the city’s richest neighbourhoods.
The national Federation of French markets said that Christmas markets have been “strongly impacted” and that its members registered “an average fall of their estimated figures between 30 and 40 per cent since the beginning of the movement of the yellow vests.”
In addition to the closure of the Eiffel Tower, many shops and museums across France, including the Louvre, Orsay Museum and the Grand Palais, will keep their doors shut on Saturday for safety reasons.
“We need to protect culture sites in Paris but also everywhere in France,” Culture Minister Franck Riester told RTL radio.
In Paris, police officers will be equipped with a dozen armoured vehicles that could be used for the first time in a French urban area since 2005.
“These vehicles can be very useful to protect buildings,” said Stanislas Gaudon, the head of police union Alliance. “And in case they set up barricades, we can quickly clear out the space and let our units progress.”
By The Associated Press