French govt urges end to protests after Strasbourg attack

Security personnel checking vehicles in Strasbourg yesterday as police across France hunt for the main suspect in an attack on a Christmas market in the eastern city on Tuesday.
Security personnel checking vehicles in Strasbourg yesterday as police across France hunt for the main suspect in an attack on a Christmas market in the eastern city on Tuesday.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Paris cites strain on security forces which are hunting fugitive gunman in Tuesday's strike

STRASBOURG • The French government yesterday urged "yellow vest" protesters not to hold another round of demonstrations this weekend as police hunted for a second day for the fugitive gunman who attacked a Christmas market in the eastern city of Strasbourg.

Government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux called on the anti-government protesters to be "reasonable", citing the strain on security forces after the attack in Strasbourg on Tuesday evening.

Police across several European countries have launched a manhunt for the main suspect, a 29-year-old Strasbourg native, who killed three people after opening fire on shoppers.

A further 13 people are injured, with five still in critical condition, the local prefecture said in a statement. One of the injured has been declared brain dead.

The suspected killer, identified as Cherif Chekatt, is thought to have been injured after exchanging fire with soldiers, but managed to escape and has not been seen since.

"Our security forces have been deployed extensively these past few weeks," Mr Griveaux told CNews television.

"It would be better if everyone could go about their business calmly on Saturday, before the year-end celebrations with their families, instead of demonstrating and putting our security forces to work once again," he added.

The yellow vest protesters, named after their fluorescent high-visibility jackets, have called for a fifth round of rallies tomorrow against President Emmanuel Macron. The protests began on Nov 17 over fuel tax increases, but snowballed into a revolt over living standards as well as Mr Macron's perceived indifference to the problems of ordinary citizens.

The appeal came as the authorities announced that a sixth person had died since the start of the protests, after a 23-year-old was hit by a truck in southern France near Avignon.

Even before Tuesday's attack in Strasbourg, the government had scrapped a fuel tax increase slated for January, a core demand of the protesters, who mainly live in rural areas and smaller towns and rely heavily on their cars.

Mr Macron also announced a hike in the minimum wage, tax relief on overtime work and a rollback on taxes for many pensioners in a televised address to the nation on Monday night.

Last Saturday, nearly 90,000 police were mobilised across the country for the protests, with 8,000 officers and a dozen armoured vehicles deployed in the capital, Paris, where scores of stores, museums and monuments were closed.

While some of the movement's representatives have said they are open to halting the protests to negotiate with the government, others have said Mr Macron's concessions are not enough.

Hundreds of police in France are now hunting for Chekatt, whose picture was published late on Wednesday in a bid to track a career criminal who has at least 27 convictions in four European countries.

One Thai tourist was among those killed in Tuesday's attack.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 14, 2018, with the headline 'French govt urges end to protests after Strasbourg attack'. Print Edition | Subscribe