Last weekend 412 people were arrested in Paris after a day of vandalism, arson, and looting around the city by the so-called gilets jaunes or yellow vest protesters. Police used tear gas and water cannons to break up the riots but that only seemed to make them angrier. This weekend, large portions of the city including tourist landmarks like the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre Museum are being shut down in anticipation of even worse riots. Authorities are warning shops to close and board up their windows. From the Associated Press:
On Friday, workers across Paris lugged pieces of plywood and hammered boards over the windows of shops and businesses — making the plush Champs-Elysees neighborhood appear like it was bracing for a hurricane.
Some top French officials said that description was not far off.
“According to the information we have, some radicalized and rebellious people will try to get mobilized tomorrow,” Interior Minister Christophe Castaner told a press conference on Friday. “Some ultra-violent people want to take part.”
Authorities say 8,000 police will fan out across Paris, equipped with a dozen barricade-busting armored vehicles that could be used for the first time in a French urban area since the 2005 riots.
“These vehicles can be very useful to protect buildings,” said Stanislas Gaudon, head of the Alliance police union. “And in case they set up barricades, we can quickly clear out the space and let our units progress.”
Here’s what the armored vehicles look like:
🇫🇷In Addition to the thousands of police deployed, a dozen armoured wheeled vehicles of the gendarmerie (VBRG) will be used in #Paris to face the risk of violences during the 4rd day of #YellowVests mobilisation on December 8
📸Arnaud Journois / POOL / AFP pic.twitter.com/cK0Zilov7C
— Emmanuel Cherki (@EmmanuelCherki) December 7, 2018
Here are some images of shops putting up a wall to protect their property from vandals and looters:
🇫🇷People work to build a wooden wall aimed at protecting a shop window in Paris, on the eve of a fourth wave of " #YellowVests" anti-government protests.
— Emmanuel Cherki (@EmmanuelCherki) December 7, 2018
Wednesday, President Macron agreed to delay the new diesel taxes which were set to take effect next month. That’s the issue which everyone agrees prompted the yellow vest protests three weeks ago, but Macron’s retreat doesn’t seem to have reduced the anger. He has remained silent since Wednesday and was said to be refusing to make any public statements before Saturday to avoid pouring any more fuel on the fire.
Another issue feeding the anger of protesters/rioters involves changes to University admissions exams, which are being made more difficult. Thursday a group of high school students who were protesting that change were rounded up by police and made to kneel on the ground, some with their hands zip-tied behind them. Video of that incident has been circulating and angering a lot of protesters who already believed the police had been too heavy-handed. Police say the students were behaving violently which is why this mass arrest happened.
The most confusing thing about the yellow vest movement is that there seem to be as many different explanations for what it’s about as there are people participating. Initially, this was a sort of populist revolt being egged on by Marine Le Pen and the right. But now the protesters are demanding a higher minimum wage and higher taxes on the wealthy. As the Economist points out, the complaints many French people have about Macron sound a lot like left-wing criticisms of his reforms:
One of his first moves was to slash taxes on wealth. The old wealth tax was inefficient, incentive-sapping and often avoided. But its removal should have gone side-by-side with more help for the hard-up. Likewise, his tax rises on diesel are a sound green policy, but he should have paid more attention to the people they hurt most—struggling rural folk who need to drive to work. The most damaging label that has stuck to the former banker is that he is “the president of the rich”.
Many French people believe this, which is perhaps why around 75% say they support the gilets jaunes protesters. Like Mr Macron’s election campaign, the protesters are organised via social media. Unlike it, they are leaderless and lack a coherent agenda, so they are almost impossible to negotiate with. The clashes already look to be the worst since les évènements of 1968.
Mr Macron will now be banking that his decision, on December 5th, to cancel the diesel tax rises “for the year of 2019”, will take the heat out of the conflict. This seems unlikely; for a start, the protests have in part now been hijacked by thuggish extremists with an interest in the violent overthrow of capitalism. Many of even the moderate gilets jaunes are demanding Mr Macron’s resignation, or a new parliament. And an earlier diesel tax rise which went into effect last January, has not (yet) been reversed.
Far-left unions are capitalizing on the energy and plan to hold their own protests against Macron next weekend. The only thing these diverse groups seem to be in agreement on is that Macron must go. But remember that Macron was the people’s choice to replace Francois Hollande, the moderate socialist who France also soured on as unemployment remained high and GDP growth near zero. So moving left has already been tried and wasn’t to many people’s liking either.
You get the impression that the French are collectively angry that their society isn’t working for a lot of its people but beneath that thin veneer of agreement, there are vastly different interpretations about why it’s not working. Some believe Macron’s reforms, designed to make the French workforce more competitive, have gone too far already while others believe they haven’t gone far enough. The result is an uncertain middle-ground that leaves Paris engulfed in smoke and tear-gas.
Here’s a Vice News report on the protests in Paris last weekend. Below that, some bodycam video from the French police who are squaring off with the most violent rioters.