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France braces for weekend 'yellow vest' protests

December 6, 2018

Officials warned that "major violence" could hit Paris as "yellow vest" protesters plan to gather again this weekend. Teens have also blocked hundreds of schools, while several unions called for solidarity strikes.

Riot police stand next to a bin fire
Image: picture-alliance/abaca/M. Clement

The political crisis engulfing French President Emmanuel Macron's government showed no signs of abating on Thursday, as public anger continues to grow despite the scrapping of a controversial fuel tax hike.

Authorities across France are bracing for another weekend of "yellow vest" protests. The movement's members are known for wearing yellow safety vests carried by French motorists.

The protests began as demonstrations against the fuel tax, which started in November but turned violent in Paris last Saturday, with some of the worst rioting in France in decades. Three weeks of protests have led to four deaths and left hundreds injured.

Some 89,000 security personnel will be deployed across the country on Saturday ahead of the fourth weekend of planned rallies, French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said on Thursday. About 8,000 officers will be in Paris where armored vehicles will be on the streets for the first time since 2005 when riots broke out in the capital's suburbs. 

"We are facing people who are not here to protest, but to smash and we want to have the means to not give them a free rein," Philippe said during an interview on TF1 national evening news.

Authorities are concerned that far-right and far-left agitators are hijacking the protests to incite further violence. One French presidential source told news agency AFP that they fear "major violence" could hit the capital this weekend.

Shops and restaurants on the Champs-Elysees were urged to close this weekend over concerns of renewed rioting, according to notices seen by the AFP. The Eiffel Tower will also be closed on Saturday.

Half of this weekend's scheduled French league football matches have been canceled due to security concerns.

Teens protest education reforms

On Thursday, students blocked some 200 French high schools to protest education reforms. They demanded an end to testing overhauls and a controversial new online platform for allocating university placements, local media reported.

Some of the protests grew violent, with masked demonstrators throwing Molotov cocktails and setting fire to trash cans. A car was also set on fire in the western city of Nantes.

High school students demonstrate against the French government's education reforms
Hundreds of French teens across the country protested against education reforms on ThursdayImage: picture-alliance/abaca/M. Clement

Growing calls for strikes

Although the "yellow vests" do not have formal leaders and are not affiliated with any labor union or political party, several French unions have called for strikes to coincide with the demonstrations.

The CGT trade union called on its energy workers to stage a 48-hour walkout on December 13, adding that they wanted to join the "yellow vests."

France's main farmers' union said on Wednesday that its members would stage demonstrations every day next week. Two truck driver unions also called for an indefinite sympathy strike starting from Sunday night.

Read more: Will the 'yellow vest' protests push France further to the right?

Who are the 'yellow vests'?

The movement developed out of a petition against fuel taxes which then spread via Facebook's new algorithm for disseminating local news, and a variety of social media groups. On November 17 yellow vest-wearing protesters blocked roads across the country and hampered access to factories and some fuel depots.

Further rallies spread quickly, spanning France's rural and urban areas. What initially started as a campaign against Macron's tax hike grew into a broader opposition movement to his government, which was elected in May 2017.

Protesters have voiced concern over the high cost of living and urged for higher salaries and lower taxes as well as Macron's resignation.

rs/amp (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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