PARIS – France prepared for a fourth repetition of violent protests that rocked the government of President Emmanuel Macron in recent weeks. The authorities announced that 278 demonstrators had already been arrested before 9.00, as nearly 89,000 police were sent across the country.
After almost a month of riots over the weekend, the "yellow gilet" movement, originally launched as a response to a carbon tax to curb climate change, has become the most serious political crisis that France has ever seen over the years. Anger reached its peak in Paris last weekend, when protesters burned cars, desecrated historical monuments and clashed with the police in violent exchanges not seen by the upheavals of 1968.
On Wednesday, the government agreed to withdraw the carbon controversy, but the yellow jackets promised to continue the violence regardless. Tensions rose further on Friday after the filming of a stalemate between the French police and a group of arrested high school students who had threatened them became viral on social media.
Last Friday, the French government tried to spread widespread anxieties about another paralyzing uprising. French interior minister Christophe Castaner said the movement only saw about 10,000 members, but the weekend demonstrations would have been characterized by ultraviolent people. "It's not France," he said.
The source of the Ministry of Interior statistics was not clear: starting Friday afternoon, one of the Yellow Jersey movement's Facebook groups had more than 156,000 members and was active with an apparently constant flow of new posts, polls and videos live. An affiliate group of Facebook had over 280,000 members.
Of the 89,000 agents to be sent throughout France, 8,000 will be on patrol in Paris. This weekend's security presence will be a significant increase over last weekend, when 65,000 agents were on duty.
For the moment, Macron, whose approval ratios continue to fall, this week up to 23%, has not yet weighed the upcoming protests. An Eliseo official told the Washington Post that the French leader would speak at the beginning of next week, but may not provide further details.
In Paris, the locals were preparing for the worst.
A network of 39 municipal hospitals announced a "reinforced surveillance plan" for Saturday that included additional emergency capabilities: 162 were injured and treated in local hospitals last weekend. Shopkeepers, meanwhile, climbed aboard the shop windows during a weekend that normally included first-class shopping. The authorities have barricaded the streets.
On Friday morning, the National Association of Monuments of France announced that the Arc de Triomphe and many other popular sites would be closed on Saturday. Also the Louvre Museum, the Orsay Museum and many other sites have announced closures.
Quentin Ariès contributed to this relationship.