Police out in force to check rioting by ‘Yellow Vests’

A 'Yellow Vest' protester dressed as a Gaul takes part in an anti-government demonstration in Paris, Saturday. — AFP

PARIS — Thousands of police fanned out across central Paris and other French cities Saturday for the 19th consecutive week of “Yellow Vest” protests, with officials vowing to prevent a repeat of the rioting and looting that marred last week’s rally in the capital.

Several hundreds of demonstrators began marching shortly after midday from a square in the south of Paris toward the Sacre-Coeur basilica at Montmartre in the north, with banners calling for President Emmanuel Macron to “Get Lost!”

Authorities banned demonstrations in a large area in the west of the city, including the Champs-Elysees, the scene of last Saturday’s rampage by hundreds of black-clad agitators.

Dozens of police vehicles, including armored trucks and water cannons, encircled the Arc de Triomphe at the top of the iconic avenue, with officers searching people’s bags and patrolling in front of boarded-up storefronts.

At the opposite end of the avenue access was completely blocked to the Place de la Concorde, near the presidential palace and the National Assembly, and two drones were flying over the capital to track any protesters’ movements.

As of midday 31 people had been detained in Paris and 15 others fined for protesting in the outlawed sectors, authorities said.

Banks and other businesses remained shut in several parts of Paris, their windows protected with planks of wood, and some schools had canceled Saturday classes in anticipation of further violence.

Protest bans were also in effect in the centers of Toulouse, Bordeaux, Dijon, Rennes and the southern city of Nice, where Chinese President Xi Jinping is to meet his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron this weekend.

Dozens of people who defied the ban at Nice’s Garibaldi square near the port were quickly surrounded by security forces and later evacuated, with six people arrested.

Justice Minister Nicole Belloubet warned that police would show “no mercy” with rioters.

There was no sign of the soldiers in much of central Paris on Saturday, but the move drew fierce criticism nonetheless from opposition parties, who have accused the government of playing with fire.

“It’s a very, very bad idea. You know what image they’re trying to create of us,” he said, predicting a “quiet Saturday”. — AFP