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French government fears ‘major violence’

Paris, Thursday

The French government says it fears “major violence” in Paris on Saturday as the national “yellow vests” protest movement shows little sign of easing.

The government said it was scrapping the fuel tax increases in the budget — the original spark for the protests.

But discontent over government policy has spread, and protests have erupted over several other issues. On Thursday, more than 140 people were arrested at a single protest about proposed reforms to the school system.

The rally, in Mantes-la-Jolie in Yvelines, ended in clashes with police in front of a school, reports said. Dozens of other schools were blockaded in cities like Marseilles and Paris.

Meanwhile, Saturday’s planned rally of the yellow vests looks set to go ahead. Recent protests have turned violent, causing millions of euros in damage.

The government appealed for calm after making its political concessions. The protest on Saturday 1 December descended into the worst rioting seen in decades.

Many protesters are law-abiding French citizens, engaged in a street protest that has huge public support and is widely seen as a legitimate democratic action.

However, without any central structure or official leaders, extremists and “troublemakers” are suspected of joining the rallies and inciting violence, the interior minister said earlier this week.

Sources at the presidential palace expressed the government’s concern about continued violence on Wednesday night.

French health minister Agnès Buzyn, speaking to RTL Radio on Thursday morning, said: “There is a concern about this violence, and some who do not want to find a solution.”

The government is considering mobilising the military to protect important national monuments, French broadcaster BFMTV reported, after the world-famous Arc de Triomphe was damaged last week.

The expectation of unrest led public institutions to announce their closure on Saturday.

A series of football matches have also been postponed at the request of police or local authorities. They include those between Paris and Montpellier, Monaco and Nice, Toulouse and Lyon, and Saint-Etienne and Marseille.

The yellow vests protests have moved beyond the initial anger about fuel taxes. Last week, the movement — despite a lack of central leadership — issued more than 40 demands to government.—BBC

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