PARIS – Paris brought in armored vehicles and the central French city of Bourges shuttered shops to gird for possible violence between police and yellow vest protesters Saturday, as the movement seeks new arenas and new momentum for its weekly demonstrations.
Authorities deployed 80,000 security forces nationwide for a ninth straight weekend of anti-government protests. Interior Minister Christophe Castaner threatened tough retaliation against rioters and their backers, warning of increasing radicalization among the largely peaceful demonstrators.
The movement waned over the holidays but appears to be resurging, despite President Emmanuel Macron’s promises of billions of euros in tax relief and an upcoming “national debate” to address demonstrators’ concerns. Protesters want deeper changes to France’s economy and politics, seen as favoring the rich.
Online groups mounted calls through the week for actions in Bourges, a provincial capital with a renowned Gothic cathedral and picturesque wood-framed houses, and the suburban Paris business district of La Defense. But authorities warned that could be a ploy to draw police away from key sites in the capital, which epitomizes the power and wealth that’s the target of the provincially driven protest movement.
So Paris police said they wouldn’t let down their guard, and deployed armored vehicles, horses and attack dogs around the city. Subway stations and some shops closed, notably around government buildings and the Champs-Elysees, the sparkling avenue whose luxury boutiques have been hit by repeated rioting in past protests.
Paris police said in a statement they made several arrests before Saturday’s actions, notably in France’s historic Gypsy or traveler community, which has called for protests in support of a boxer caught on video punching police last weekend in central Paris.
That incident dominated French media over the past week, and prompted fears of resurgent tensions between protesters and police. Boxer Christophe Dettinger turned himself in to police and is in custody pending trial.
Other protests are planned in several French cities Saturday, but many actions aren’t officially declared in advance and pop up in unexpected places. Last Saturday, authorities estimated 50,000 people protested nationwide, including 3,500 in Paris.
The protests started with drivers opposing fuel tax increases, which is why participants wear the fluorescent vests French motorists must keep in their vehicles. But it has mushroomed into a broad-based revolt against years of shrinking purchasing power and Macron’s pro-business policies.
Some yellow vest groups hope to translate that into votes in the European elections in May.