The French Government is considering deploying anti-terror troops to protect public buildings. (Reuters: Benoit Tessier)
French authorities will close dozens of museums, tourist sites and shops on Saturday, including the Eiffel Tower and Louvre, fearing a recurrence of last week’s violence in Paris.
- French intelligence suggests some protesters plan to “vandalise and kill”
- 65,000 security personnel will be deployed across France
- Top-level soccer games have been cancelled
“We cannot take the risk when we know the threat,” Culture Minister Franck Riester told RTL radio, adding that far-right and far-left agitators were planning to hijack rallies by “yellow vest” protesters in Paris.
He said the Louvre museum, Orsay museum, the two operas, and the Grand Palais were among the sites that would be closed a week after rioters looted and defaced the Arc de Triomphe.
The Eiffel Tower will also be closed on Saturday due to the protests, the site’s operator SETE said, warning it could not ensure security for visitors.
With protesters calling on social media for “Act IV” — a fourth weekend of protest — Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said 65,000 police would be drafted in to stop a repeat of last Saturday’s mayhem in Paris, when rioters torched cars and looted shops off the Champs Elysees boulevard.
What began as protests over fuel tax hikes has turned into a nationwide crisis. (Reuters: Benoit Tessier)
The Government is also considering using troops currently deployed on anti-terrorism patrols to protect public buildings.
“We will continue to arrest and bring to justice everyone who is caught committing violence or vandalism,” Mr Philippe said.
“And we will continue to take a tough stance, we will fight the hatred and violence which is being expressed in such an incredible level of violence.”
An official in President Emmanuel Macron’s office said intelligence suggested that some protesters would come to the capital this Saturday “to vandalise and to kill”.
At least four of the weekend’s first division soccer matches have been cancelled.
Paris police asked dozens of shop and restaurant owners around the Champs Elysees and Bastille areas to close on Saturday and requested local authorities in 15 areas around the capital to remove anything in the streets that could be used as projectiles.
Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer urged people to stay at home on the weekend.
Fuel-tax increases scrapped
In a bid to defuse the three-week crisis, Mr Philippe said fuel-tax increases planned for 2019 would be scrapped entirely, a day after announcing a six-month suspension.
Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire told a conference he was prepared to bring forward tax-cutting plans and that he wanted workers’ bonuses to be tax-free.
Protesters scrawled “yellow jackets will triumph” on the Arc de Triomphe’s base. (AP: Thibault Camus)
But he added: “In this case, it must go hand-in-hand with a decrease in spending.”
He also said France would impose a tax on big internet companies in 2019 if there was no consensus on a European Union-wide levy, seeking to appeal to the protesters’ anti-business sentiment.
The threat of more violence poses a security nightmare for the authorities, who make a distinction between peaceful “yellow vest” protesters and violent groups, anarchists and looters who they say have infiltrated the movement.
The protests, named after the fluorescent jackets French motorists are required to keep in their cars, erupted in November over the squeeze on household budgets caused by fuel taxes.
Demonstrations swiftly grew into a broad, sometimes-violent rebellion against Mr Macron, with no formal leader.