Eiffel Tower to close amid fears of more protests, violence

PARIS — The Eiffel Tower in Paris will be closed on Saturday as French authorities tighten security to prevent another outbreak of violence following three weeks of anti-government protests.

In addition to the 8,000 police forces that will be deployed in the French capital, the Paris police prefect has identified 14 high-risk sectors that will be cleared out.

Fearing protesters could target street furniture or construction sites, Paris police will remove all the glass containers, railings and building machines set up in the identified sectors which include the world-renowned and glitzy Champs-Elysees avenue.

Across the country some 89,000 police will be mobilized, up from 65,000 last weekend when more than 130 people were injured and over 400 were arrested in the worst street violence seen in the country in decades. And authorities have also cancelled six French league soccer matches this weekend around the country.

Since the unrest began on Nov. 17 in reaction to a sharp increase in diesel taxes, four people have been killed in accidents.

The protesters are collectively referred to as the “yellow vest” movement, in reference to the fluorescent safety outfit French motorists keep in their cars.

Amid the unrest, some of the protesters, French union officials and prominent politicians across the political spectrum have urged calm especially as French President Emmanuel Macron agreed to abandon the fuel tax hike that triggered the movement. However, protesters’ demands have now expanded to other issues hurting French workers, retirees and students.

The rioting has also had an economic impact at the height of the holiday shopping season. Rampaging groups last weekend threw cobblestones through Paris storefronts and looted valuables in some of the city’s richest neighborhoods.

The national Federation of French markets said Friday that Christmas markets have been “strongly impacted” and that its members registered “an average fall of their estimated figures between 30 and 40 percent since the beginning of the movement of the yellow vests.”

In addition to the closure of the Eiffel Tower, many shops and museums across France, including the Orsay Museum and the Grand Palais, will keep their doors shut on Saturday for safety reasons.

“We need to protect culture sites in Paris but also everywhere in France,” Culture Minister Franck Riester told RTL radio.

In Paris, police officers will be equipped with a dozen armored vehicles for the first time in a French urban area since 2005.

“These vehicles can be very useful to protect buildings,” said Stanislas Gaudon, the head of police union Alliance. “And in case they set up barricades, we can quickly clear out the space and let our units progress.”

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