Sunday, 16 December, 2018

‘Yellow vest’ protests resume as Paris shuts up shop

Bordeaux southwestern France during a demonstration against rising costs of living. The yellow vest movement in France originally started as a protest about planned fuel hikes but has morphed into Yellow Vest Protester's Hand Blown Off as French Revolt Turns Ugly AFP 2018 Nicolas Tucat
Jeannette Daniel | 08 December, 2018, 14:06

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 percent since the beginning of the yellow vest movement".

Authorities are deploying barricade-busting armoured vehicles and 8,000 police in the capital alone. "I think this is what the French people want, they want answers", Transport Minister Elisabeth Borne told Sud Radio on Friday.

Nationwide, about 89,000 police will fan out in the streets, an increase from 65,000 last weekend, when more than 130 people were injured and over 400 arrested as the protests degenerated into the worst street violence to hit the French capital in decades.

"Now we await Mr Macron".

Students opposing changes in key high school tests protested again Friday, a day after video that was shared widely on social media showed the arrest of high school pupils outside Paris and prompted an outcry.

Hundreds of police officers are being mobilized in Brussels Saturday, where yellow vest protesters last week clashed with police and torched two police vehicles.

Department stores were also closed due to the risk of looting on what would normally be a busy shopping weekend less than three weeks before Christmas.

Foreign governments are watching developments closely in one of the world´s most visited cities.

The U.S. Embassy has advised American travelers to avoid the demonstrations, particularly in areas of central Paris.

In a warning of impending violence, an MP for Macron's party, Benoit Potterie, received a bullet in the post on Friday with the words: "Next time it will be between your eyes".

But the "yellow vests", who have become increasingly radicalised, are holding out for more.

A screengrab of the video

Protests at dozens of schools over stricter university entrance requirements, and a call by farmers for demonstrations next week, have added to a sense of a government under siege.

The hardline CGT union, hoping to capitalise on the movement, has called for rail and metro strikes next Friday to demand immediate wage and pension increases.

Macron announced earlier this week that the planned hikes in petrol and diesel taxes, which sparked the protest movement, would be cancelled outright.

Arguing that such a move was necessary in order to boost investment and create jobs, the former investment banker has so far ruled out reimposing the "fortune tax".

Macron had previously vowed to stay the course in his bid to shake up the French economy and not be swayed by mass protests that have forced previous presidents to back down.

The movement has no clear leaders, and past protests have attracted extremists who hurled projectiles at police.

On Friday, workers across Paris lugged pieces of plywood and hammered boards over the windows of shops and businesses - making the plush Champs-Elysees neighborhood appear like it was bracing for a hurricane.

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-Élysées avenue.

"It's with an vast sadness that we'll see our city partially brought to a halt, but your safety is our priority", Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo said.

"There is a rising of the people's rage, and it's caused by a single reason - the government's policies that only look to take from the poor to keep for the rich", Taha Bouhafs, an activist in Paris told Al Jazeera.

The protesters began blocking roads, fuel depots and shopping centres around France on November 17 over soaring petrol prices that have hit people in the provinces who get around by vehicle.

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