France to shut tourist sites, step up security amid riot fears

Workers setting up wood panels to protect shop windows near Bastille Place in Paris yesterday. The authorities there have ordered today's closure to stave off another wave of violent "yellow vest" protests over living costs.
Workers setting up wood panels to protect shop windows near Bastille Place in Paris yesterday. The authorities there have ordered today's closure to stave off another wave of violent "yellow vest" protests over living costs.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

PARIS • France will close the Eiffel Tower and other tourism landmarks in Paris and draft in thousands more security forces today to stave off another wave of violent protests in the country over living costs.

With protesters from the "yellow vest" movement calling on social media for "Act IV" - a fourth weekend of protest - Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said 89,000 police nationwide would be deployed to stop a repeat of last Saturday's mayhem across France.

About 8,000 of these officers would be deployed in Paris, where rioters torched cars, looted shops off the famed Champs-Elysees boulevard, and defaced the Arc de Triomphe with graffiti directed at President Emmanuel Macron.

Seeking to regain the initiative after weeks of civil unrest, the government appeared ready to offer concessions.

Mr Philippe told the Senate he was open to new measures to help the lowest-paid workers, while Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said he was prepared to accelerate tax cuts for households and he wanted workers' bonuses to be tax free.

"I am ready to look at all measures that will help raise the pay of those on the minimum wage without doing excessive damage to our competitiveness and businesses," said Mr Philippe.

The rush of sweeteners to soothe public anger began with Mr Philippe's climb-down on fuel tax hikes. Yet, days after the worst rioting central Paris has seen since 1968, all signs are that the government has failed to quell the revolt.

Mr Macron's political ally and the National Assembly chief, Mr Richard Ferrand, said the President will wait until early next week to speak to the nation, holding off until after today's planned protests.

"The President understands the context and the situation, and he doesn't want to add fuel to the fire," said Mr Ferrand.

The authorities in Paris ordered dozens of museums, tourism sites, shops and restaurants to close today, including the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre. Local officials in 15 areas around the capital were also asked to remove anything in the streets that could be used as projectiles.

The protests erupted last month over the squeeze on household budgets caused by fuel taxes. Demonstrations swiftly grew into a broad, sometimes-violent rebellion against Mr Macron. Trouble is also brewing elsewhere for Mr Macron.

Teenage students on Thursday blocked access to more than 200 high schools across the country and clashed with security forces. About 700 students were arrested, French media reported. Images of dozens of high school students kneeling with their hands behind their heads during mass round-ups sparked an outcry yesterday.

Farmers and truckers are also threatening blockages and strikes from tomorrow.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 08, 2018, with the headline 'France to shut tourist sites, step up security amid riot fears'. Print Edition | Subscribe