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Paris fears new protest violence despite Macron’s retreat

Angela Charlton and Alex Turnbull, The Associated Press
Published Thursday, December 6, 2018 5:32AM EST

Paris police and store owners are bracing for new violence at protests Saturday, despite President Emmanuel Macron’s surrender over a fuel tax hike that unleashed weeks of unrest.

Police unions and local authorities are holding emergency meetings Thursday to strategize — while disparate groups of protesters are sharing plans on social networks and chat groups.

After the worst rioting in Paris in decades last weekend, many shops and restaurants in the centre of the capital are expected to shut down Saturday, fearing a repeat of the violence.

Macron on Wednesday agreed to abandon the fuel tax hike, but protesters’ demands have now expanded to other issues.

Protesting students are disrupting schools and universities Thursday, and drivers are still blocking roads around France, now demanding broader tax cuts and government aid.

A small union representing police administrative personnel called for a strike Saturday, which could further complicate security measures Saturday. Other police unions are not talking about strikes — but everyone’s worried about security risks in the face of a movement with no clear leaders whose protests are easily hijacked by troublemakers of all stripes.

Police have come under criticism for failing to prevent damage to the Arc de Triomphe and stores along the famed Champs-Elysees in central Paris, as well as for violence against protesters.

Videos circulating on social media of police beating protesters at a Burger King on the Champs-Elysees have deepened the anger. A police spokeswoman said Thursday an investigation is underway into that incident, and that police are examining other videos shared online for possible violations.

Macron himself, the central target of the protests, has been largely invisible all week. After winning election overwhelmingly last year, the 40-year-old pro-business centrist alienated many of his own voters with tax cuts for the rich and other badly explained reforms — and what many see as his elitist, out-of-touch attitude.

The rioting in Paris has worried tourists and damaged the local economy at the height of the holiday shopping season. Rampaging groups threw cobblestones through storefronts and looted valuables in some of the city’s richest neighbourhoods.

Clement Rozey, manager of a motorcycle shop in western Paris, spent two days and two nights cleaning it up after he watched powerless as a group of thugs smashed his shop windows and emptied his shelves.

He has boarded up the store and will stay closed Saturday.

“We’re going to have a security company with security guards inside and outside the shop,” Rozey said. “Everything has been fenced off, several times.”

Yet he remains sympathetic to the protest movement.

“Just like everybody, we’re strangled (financially) after the 15th of the month,” he told The Associated Press, referring to the day when many workers are paid. The protesters “are defending a cause, they’re following through and rightly so. We support them whole-heartedly,” he said. But violent troublemakers who pillage and riot — “that’s something else.”

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