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'War is declared': 'Yellow vests' plan protests in nine French cities and a blockade of ports

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'War is declared': 'Yellow vests' plan protests in nine French cities and a blockade of ports
A Yellow Vest protester gestures in front of a newsstand set alight during clashes with riot police forces on the Champs-Elysees in Paris o March 16th. Photo: AFP
15:11 CET+01:00
The 'yellow vests' are gearing up for their 19th weekend of protests in France and the government is taking strong measures to keep order. Here's what you need to know about what is happening on Saturday.

This weekend is set to be something of a moment of truth for the French government as it prepares for fresh 'yellow vest' protests under the specter of last Saturday's violence.

During the 18th straight weekend of protests on Saturday March 16th, demonstrators looted and torched shops and businesses on the famed Champs-Elysees avenue in Paris in scenes reminiscent of the worst "yellow vest" riots in the French capital in December.

More events are planned for this weekend's so-called Act 19. 

Here's a look at what you need to know about what the protesters are planning and how the government has prepared. 

French plan for army backup in 'yellow vest' protests sparks backlashPhoto: AFP

How is the French government preparing?

It's fair to say the French government is not taking the situation lightly. 

After calling an emergency meeting after the events of last Saturday, a series of new measures to prevent the same situation from happening again were announced.

As a result there is a ban on demonstrations on the Champs-Elysees, Place de l'Etoile and Concorde, as well as in certain areas of other French cities, including Marseille in the south and Metz in the east. 

Protests will also be outlawed in much of the southern city of Nice, where Chinese President Xi Jinping will meet his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron on Sunday.

Protesters have been banned from gathering at Place Pey-Berland in Bordeaux and Place du Capitole in Toulouse.

"There are serious reasons to believe that violence and damages are likely during the scheduled demonstrations," the Paris prefect's office said.

The fine for taking part in a banned demonstration has also been increased from €38 to €135.

Police will also be equipped with GLI F4 grenades, a tear gas and sound-only stun grenade, as well as more powerful ammunition for the Flash Ball riot guns, with some of the restrictions on the use of the controversial weapons lifted.

On top of these measures Paris police chief Michel Delpuech, 66, who has been in the job since April 2017, was replaced on Wednesday by Didier Lallement, the top police official in the southwest region of Nouvelle-Aquitaine.

French police chiefs came under fire for failing to control or prepare for the violence which erupted on the Champs-Elysées on Saturday when black-clad anarchists joined hardened yellow vest protesters looting and pillaging stores.

This Saturday the government has said that nearly 5,000 police officers will be deployed in the French capital along with anti-terrorist soldiers.
 
Addressing the new Paris police chief Didier Lallement on Thursday, Interior Minister Christophe Castaner demanded a "zero tolerance" approach towards violent demonstrators.
 
Photo: AFP
 
"The violence has risen a notch, our response must be firm," said Castaner, adding that he had "completely changed" the approach to the policing of the protests.
 
French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe stressed that the measures were in response to those intent on violence and not ordinary yellow vest demonstrators who have taken to the streets on Saturdays in recent months, but whose numbers have dipped.
 
"I am not mixing up the rioters (casseurs) with the large majority of yellow vests, who are no longer demonstrating...," he said.
 
"All those who are participating in these undeclared demonstrations are complicit. Their only cause is violence."
 
So, soldiers are going to patrol the streets of Paris?
 
The French government announced on Wednesday evening that French anti-terror soldiers will be on duty on Saturday for the next "yellow vest" protest in order to free up police officers to concentrate on crowd control.
 
The troops will be deployed on Saturday to help guard public buildings, allowing police to focus on dealing with 'yellow vest' demonstrators in case of renewed violence in Paris and other cities.
 
The decision quickly drew fire from opposition parties on both the left and right of the political spectrum who said the move was "irresponsible". 
 
However French Defence Minister Florence Parly said on Friday that the soldiers will not be taking part in the policing of the protests and will not have any contact with the 'yellow vests'. 
 
French soldiers to patrol streets during next 'yellow vest' protest
Photo: AFP
 
The participation of the anti-terror soldiers simply "relieves the police and gendarmes of a number of common tasks in the fight against terrorism," said Parly. "It's about allowing them to do what they are the only ones who can do: maintain public order." 
 
Former Defence Minister, and the current French Foreign Minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Friday: "There was never any question that the French army would intervene. It's not their role to get in touch with the protesters."
 
Le Drian added that this is "not the first time" the military have been brought in to help the police, saying that this measure was also taken during the Euros in 2016 "when soldiers replaced the police force to provide security in a number of buildings, such as embassies and places of worship." 

What are the 'yellow vests' planning?

However the measures introduced by the French government hasn't stopped a flurry of 'yellow vest' events, including one called 'War is declared', being set up on Facebook. 
 
There are events planned at several cities across France, including in the French capital, on Saturday. 
 
Two Facebook groups call on members of the movement to meet at Trocadéro in the 16th arrondissement, with some of them planning to stage a sit-in there.
 
Due to the restrictions placed on protesters in other cities around France (see above for more information), demonstrations have been planned outside of the spaces they have been banned from. 
 
For example in Nice, 'yellow vests' are planning to meet in Garibaldi Square, at Le Miroir d'eau in Bordeaux, in the allées Jean-Jaurès in Toulouse and Place de la Republique in Metz.
 
Other protests have been announced in the southern French city of Montpellier, Strasbourg in the east, Lyon in central France, La Rochelle in the south west and, perhaps more surprisingly, the town of Guéret also in the south west, where protesters are planning a "significant event".
 
But not all Gilets Jaunes are planning to congregate in cities. 
 
Controversial 'yellow vest' Eric Drouet, who is keen to mix up the approach, is calling for a "total national block" which he intends to do by blocking ports and oil refineries. 
 
However true to their tradition, the 'yellow vests' have not revealed the details of this action in an attempt to take the authorities by surprise in the face of the government's new strategy. 
 

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Chez Moi - 22 Mar 2019 15:14
The fine for taking part in a banned demonstration has also been increased from €38 to €135 ...
how do they plan to collect this money given that the protesters are complaining they are already living paycheck to paycheck ... if ANY paycheck?
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