PARIS, France (AP) — Prized Paris monuments and normally bustling shopping meccas locked down Saturday and tens of thousands of police took position around France, fearing worsening violence in a new round of anti-government protests.
Police said they had already detained some 354 people by Saturday morning ahead of the demonstrations.
President Emmanuel Macron’s government has warned that Saturday’s “yellow vest” protests in Paris will be hijacked by “radicalized and rebellious” crowds and become the most dangerous yet after three weeks of demonstrations.
The Eiffel Tower and Louvre Museum shut down Saturday along with hundreds of stores and businesses, fearing damage after rioting and looting last Saturday that saw 130 people injured and the worst urban unrest in Paris in decades.
A few dozen demonstrators wearing the movement’s signature neon vests gathered before dawn Saturday near the Arc de Triomphe, which was damaged in last week’s rioting. Others lined up for police searches and bag checks at Porte Maillot, a major entryway to western Paris and the famed Champs Elysees. Police installed special reinforced barricades in the posh streets around the presidential Elysee palace.
Authorities are deploying barricade-busting armored vehicles and 8,000 police in the capital alone; nationwide, some 89,000 security forces fanned out to deter or confront troublemakers expected at multiple protests.
The grassroots movement began as resistance against a rise in taxes for diesel and gasoline, but quickly expanded to encompass frustration at stagnant incomes and the growing cost of living. Macron agreed to abandon the fuel tax hike, but that hasn’t defused the anger, embodied by the fluorescent safety vests that French motorists are required to keep in their cars.
Many members of the protest movement are calling for calm, and some struck a conciliatory tone after meeting the prime minister Friday night, in a last-minute bid to cool tempers.
But the movement has no clear leaders, and past protests have attracted extremists who hurled projectiles at police.
“According to the information we have, some radicalized and rebellious people will try to get mobilized tomorrow,” Interior Minister Christophe Castaner told a news conference Friday. “Some ultra-violent people want to take part.”
“These past three weeks have produced a monster that its creators no longer control,” Castaner said, vowing “zero tolerance” toward those aiming to wreak further destruction.
Macron himself, the target of much of the protesters’ ire, has been largely invisible in recent days, leaving his prime minister and government to try to negotiate with protesters. Out of the media spotlight, Macron met Friday night with riot police being deployed in Paris Saturday.
Four people have died since the unrest began on November 17. Christmas markets, national soccer matches and countless other events have been canceled or hurt by the protests.
Parts of Paris looked like they were bracing for a hurricane, with boards on windows covering up the Christmas decorations. Police removed any materials from the streets that could be used as weapons, especially at construction sites in high-risk areas.
“It’s with an immense sadness that we’ll see our city partially brought to a halt, but your safety is our priority,” said Mayor Anne Hidalgo. “Take care of Paris on Saturday, because Paris belongs to all the French people.”
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.