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Of Saphora Smith
PARIS – The French capital was closed on Saturday while the city prepared for what many fear will be the most violent protests in the weeks of strong anti-government demonstrations that have swept the country.
The protests that began last month against the expected tax hikes on gas turned into a wider rebuke of the presidency of Emmanuel Macron and angered at his attempts to reform France's long-run economy.
Nearly eight out of ten people in France are supporting protests, according to a survey published last week.
Paris was largely deserted on Saturday morning while riot police waited at street corners and the first streams of protesters were heading for the Champs-Elysees, intoning the iconic national anthem of the country and waving the tricolor flag as they crossed the presidential palace.
The facades of shops along the world-famous street – the scene of last week's clashes between protesters and police – have been barricaded behind plywood sheets in preparation for even more violence.
Hundreds of people were already in custody, the authorities said, while plumes of gray tear gas occasionally punctuated the crowd.
Officials said they planned to deploy 8,000 policemen in the capital, as Interior Minister Christophe Castaner warned that "ultraviolet people" would try to get off the streets of Paris.
"According to the information we have, some radicalized and rebellious people will try to mobilize tomorrow," Castaner told a news conference on Friday.
The glittering museums and galleries of Paris – including the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower – said they would not open their doors to the usual group of tourists on holiday.
Football matches have also been canceled across the country.
While the Parisians were preparing for what seemed to be another weekend of destruction, the overwhelming majority who spoke to NBC News on Friday said they had backed the complaints of the so-called Yellow Jackets.
While many said they had been disturbed by the escalation of protest violence, they also claimed to share the frustrations of the protesters. That is to say, the high cost of living in France and the appetite for Macron reforms.
"There's a great rage in France at the moment," said André Rubinot, a retired baker whose old boulangerie is in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower.
"The president has too many reforms and rushes them too fast without asking anyone – fast, fast, fast," he said.
Like others, Rubinot complained that life had become too expensive, as several household products had risen in price. "A baguette now has a 20 euro cents" ($ 1.36) said the 68 year old incredulous.
The French have a tendency to fiercely oppose the reform and to quickly abandon the love with their presidents.
Macron, a former investment banker who pushed a reformist program into power, should have been different.
The young centrist is committed to reviewing the generous social status of the country, which redistributes wealth throughout the society with high taxes for the rich.
France has high levels of social security and workers' rights, making it difficult to implement business-friendly reforms despite persistent unemployment.
But while he has enjoyed a high profile on the global stage, he has struggled to push legislation to the center of his internal program.
Macron has faced demonstrations throughout his one-year term, but the "Yellow Jacket" protests represent a more fundamental challenge for his authority.
A November poll found that only 26% of the French have a favorable opinion from their president.
The results indicate that Macron is now less popular than its predecessors Francois Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy during the same period of their presidencies. Both would eventually abandon the opposition office and the scandal.
The protests gained even more momentum this week after French farmers and unions pledged to join the fray.
The students also protested throughout France in a series of demonstrations against education reform, some claimed to protest in solidarity with the "Yellow Jackets".
While several complaints about the palette of discontent begin to merge, many people in Paris have said they thought it would become increasingly difficult for Macron to end the unrest.
In a last attempt to quell the tumult, Macron agreed on Wednesday to abandon the tax increases on gas he had previously defended as necessary to help reduce France's dependence on fossil fuels.
However, his concessions seem to have fallen on deaf ears.
Many on the streets of Paris on Friday accused Macron of not listening to people and several said that his U-turn was too late.
"The government should do more, it should have reacted better," said Abdul Asis, a 28-year-old construction worker who described himself as "100% behind the yellow jackets".
Joseph Downing, a French policy expert at the London School of Economics, agreed that the protests were "much more" than gas taxes.
"It is all this idea of the crushed middle class or the person of the crushed upper working class who feels entitled to a higher standard of living, but it is something that no politician can offer," he said.
"This is where we saw the deprivation of the right to vote with Sarkozy, with Hollande and now with Macron."
The self-organized approach of protest, which arose from the depths of social media, is also a relatively new phenomenon in France, where people have historically relied on powerful unions to organize discontent.
Several people who spoke with NBC News said that the strength of the "Yellow Jackets" lies in the fact that the protest is not specifically linked to any political party or union and has therefore joined the sections of the population.
"Politicians are afraid because they do not know how to stop it," said Julian Guillo, a 23-year-old student. "It's not an organization, it's people".
Several people directed their frustration directly to Macron, who they described as out of control.
"He's the president of the rich," said Louis Boyard, a student leader of high school student protest Friday. "The young are angry, we are against Emmanuel Macron."
Among the many complaints listed at the protest there were changes in university admissions procedures and fees, which the students and teachers said would make the admission more selective and would limit access to the & # 39; higher education.
"We have to get rid of Macron to get a fairer society," said Homa Javadi, 18, who claimed to support the cause of the so-called Yellow Jackets.
But while anger is widespread, the appetite for violence and destruction is not.
"Vandalizing the Arc de Triomphe is unacceptable," said Lea Chauvet, a graduate who was chatting with a friend outside the Pantheon, a mausoleum for the distinguished citizens of the republic, Friday.
"I would not like to associate with people who destroy everything," he added, explaining a reason why he would not go to the protest.
But it's not just the students who blame Macron's door. Rubinot, the baker, said the president spoke to the people and portrayed himself as "like a king".
The fact that Macron has largely kept a low profile after examining the damage after last weekend's protests has further irritated those looking for signs of change from the presidential palace.
"He's saying nothing and the country is on fire," said Meredith Saban, 38, director of a human resources management company, who said she had a cigarette on the Champs-Elysee.
"He's mocking people."