French authorities fear ‘great violence’ as yellow vest anger endures

A French riot policeman stands next to a burning car as youth and high school students protest against the French government's reform plan, in Nantes, France, December 6, 2018. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe

PARIS (Reuters) – French authorities are worried that another wave of “great violence” and rioting will be unleashed in Paris this weekend by a hard core of several thousand ‘yellow vest’ protesters, an official in the French presidency said on Thursday.

Despite capitulating this week over plans for fuel taxes that inspired the nationwide revolt, President Emmanuel Macron has struggled to quell the anger that led to the worst street unrest in central Paris since 1968.

Rioters torched cars, shattered windows, looted shops and sprayed and anti-Macron graffiti across some of Paris’s most affluent districts, even defacing the Arc de Triomphe. Scores of people were hurt and hundreds arrested in battles with police.

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe announced late on Wednesday that he was scrapping the fuel-tax increases planned for 2019, having announced a six-month suspension the day before, in a desperate bid to defuse the worst crisis of Macron’s presidency.

The Elysee official said intelligence suggested that some protesters would come to the capital “to vandalize and to kill”.

The threat of more violence poses a security nightmare for the authorities, who make a distinction between peaceful ‘yellow vest’ protesters and violent groups, anarchists and looters from the deprived suburbs who they say have infiltrated the movement.

The yellow vest protests, named for fluorescent jackets French motorists are required to keep in their cars, erupted in November over the squeeze on household budgets caused by fuel taxes. Demonstrations swiftly grew into a broad, sometimes-violent rebellion against Macron, with no formal leader.

Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer urged people to stay at home during the coming weekend. Security sources said the government was considering using troops currently deployed on anti-terrorism patrols to protect public buildings.

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