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Paris on knife-edge ahead of new 'yellow vest' protests

AFP  |  Paris 

Businesses in battened down the hatches on Friday and streets were cleared of material that could be used as weapons amid fears of further violence during a fourth round of "yellow vest" protests.

The French capital experienced its worst riots in decades last weekend, plunging into its deepest crisis so far.

will meet Friday evening with a delegation of self-described "moderate" yellow vests, who have urged people not to descend on on Saturday.

has vowed "zero tolerance" towards those aiming to wreak further destruction and mayhem, after dozens of vehicles were torched, shops looted and the war memorial was sacked last Saturday.

"These past three weeks have seen the birth of a monster that has escaped its creators," Castaner told a conference. "It's time now for dialogue."

Castaner said he expected "only a few thousand people" after the 8,000 counted in last weekend, "but among them are ultraviolent individuals".

Shops around the famous Champs-Elysees boulevard -- epicentre of last week's battle -- were busy boarding up their windows and emptying them of merchandise on Friday.

"We can't take the risk," said a manager at a motorcycle dealership as employees loaded luxury Italian racers onto trucks for safekeeping.

Much of the city will effectively be on lockdown.

The operators of landmarks like the and and Orsay museums said they would be closed, along with operas, theatres and libraries. Major department stores, whose elaborate displays are a huge draw for tourists and locals alike, will be shut as well.

Nearly 40 Metro stops in the city centre will be closed, and dozens of bus lines curtailed.

Foreign governments are watching developments closely.

The issued a warning to Americans in Paris to "keep a low profile and avoid crowds", while Belgium, advised citizens planning to visit Paris over the weekend to postpone their visit. Numerous other European countries issued warnings.

Macron this week gave in to some of the protesters' demands for measures to help the poor and struggling middle classes, including scrapping a planned increase in fuel taxes and freezing and in 2019.

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

Calls on for protesters to attack the police or march on the presidential palace have especially rattled the authorities.

Philippe said that 8,000 police would be mobilised in Paris out of 89,000 nationwide, and that a dozen armoured vehicles would be deployed -- a first in the capital.

The police were already facing accusations Friday of being heavy-handed. A video showed officers in riot gear barking orders at dozens of high-school pupils kneeling on the ground with their hands behind their heads following a demonstration in Mantes-la-Jolie near Paris.

The "yellow vests", named after the high-visibility safety jackets worn by demonstrators, began blocking roads, fuel depots and shopping centres around on November 17 over soaring fuel prices this year.

Since then the movement has snowballed into a wider revolt against Macron's economic policies and his top-down approach to power.

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.

And the hard-line CGT union, hoping to capitalise on the movement, has called for rail and Metro strikes next Friday to demand immediate wage and pension increases.

The protesters accuse the of favouring the rich and city-dwellers over those trying to make ends meet in car-dependent rural and small-town Many are calling on him to resign.

But Castaner estimated Friday that just 10,000 people were taking part nationwide. "10,000 is not the people, it's not France," he argued, despite polls showing the protesters enjoying strong public support.

Macron's "cardinal sin", in the eyes of the protesters, was slashing wealth taxes shortly after taking office.

The 40-year-old former investment banker, dubbed "the of the rich" by critics, has so far ruled out re-imposing the "fortune tax" on high-earners, arguing it is necessary to boost investment and create jobs.

But his climbdown on fuel taxes -- intended to help transition to a greener economy -- marks a major departure for a leader who had prided himself on not giving into street protests.

Macron himself has not commented publicly on the crisis since his return from the summit in a week ago.

He is expected to address the protests in a speech early next week.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Sat, December 08 2018. 00:50 IST