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'Black Saturday': Why France fears major violence at 'yellow vest' protests

Evie Burrows-Taylor
Evie Burrows-Taylor - [email protected]
'Black Saturday': Why France fears major violence at 'yellow vest' protests
Photo: AFP

The 'yellow vests' are planning to gather for another weekend of protests in France this weekend. While recent demos have been largely peaceful police the government is concerned violence will break out in Paris on Saturday given the notorious"black bloc" look set to infiltrate the protest.


For a while it seemed like the Notre-Dame blaze which shook France on Monday, had dampened the 'yellow vests' plans to go big for this weekend's demonstrations.
And while some members of the anti-government movement are suggesting that the events should be cancelled, on Friday it seemed like there was a growing call for the protests to go ahead, with many Gilets Jaunes angered by the large sums coughed up for the repairs at Notre-Dame, which they say could be better spent. 
On top of that the notorious Black Bloc group (Scroll down to find out more about the black bloc), who played a major role when the Champs-Elysées was ransacked recently, have also called on their supporters to join the protests, with the French capital set to be the centre of the action once again.  
A total of 5,600 people are planning to attend one event called "Ultimatum 2" in Paris, according to the Facebook page. 

OPINION: Notre-Dame blaze has united France - but probably only until the weekendPhoto: AFP

Organisers of this event struck an aggressive note, stating: "We are calling on all our citizens to go to Paris in a non-peaceful way... As for Notre-Dame, it's good billionaires have found one billion euros, but 140,000 homeless, no one cares!"
Another group called "Acte 23 Ultimatum 2: RDV A L'elysee!", was similar in tone: "The meeting point will be on the Champs Elysee and it will end at the Elysee, we must NOT separate!" 
The organisers of other event pages also seemed determined to carry out their plans to protest. 
"We must find an honorable way to do it with our sadness, to unite with the national turmoil, while remaining vindictive towards Macron," read the description of one of the demonstrations being planned for this Saturday.
This event calls on demonstrators to meet at the Basilica of Saint-Denis and head to Notre-Dame, however just a few hundred people so far have said they plan to participate while 2,400 are "interested". 
"You have to demonstrate April 20th as planned regardless of what happened elsewhere. There is still no way to make ends meet," wrote one 'yellow vest' on the event page. 
The main figures of the movement, including Jerome Rodrigues and Eric Drouet, have made it clear they plan to protest this weekend, with Drouet warning the government in a video on Monday that this was a second ultimatum for the government and that they should prepare. 
Meawhile Jerome Rodrigues said: "The Yellow Vests thank all the generous donor billionaires for saving Notre-Dame and suggest that they do the same with Les Miserables." 
Photo: AFP
At the time of writing on Friday, it was still not clear exactly what the main plan for protest is. 
One reason for this could be that protests will once again be banned on the Champs-Elysees, and it will also be banned to protest throughout the Ile de la Cité where Notre-Dame is located. 
On top of that, since the beginning of the protests it has been forbidden to demonstrate near the National Assembly and the Senate.
This will be the second time a 'yellow vest' act has taken place since the so-called 'anti-rioters' bill came into effect on April 11th, and the bill, which was approved by lawmakers in February, aims to crack down on violence that has marred the "yellow vest" protest movement.
This means in theory that anyone turning up to an undeclared demo will be fined 135 euros.
Police presence 
The Paris police are on red alert for this weekend, with the Prefect of police Didier Lallement warning that there could be around 10,000 to 15,000 protesters, with a radical contingent of 1,500 - 2,000.
Lallement said on a Friday that one single demonstration had been authorised for Saturday -- the one leaving the Basilica of Saint Denis. 
However he said that two other "problematic" demonstrations, which were to end on the Champs-Elysées or head to the quays near Notre-Dame, were banned and asked organisers to change their plans.
He also said that police would intervene as soon as there was any "destruction" and that "mobs" will be dispersed.
Thorough checks are set to take place around the railway stations, at the tolls and on all the roads around the greater Paris region of Ile-de-France to identify individuals who are banned from demonstrating or going to Paris, as well as to find possible weapons. Customs services will also be involved.
Photo: AFP
Interior Minister Christophe Castaner announced that 60,000 police would be deployed throughout France on Saturday. 
In Paris, 20 companies of CRS riot police will be mobilised, as well as 36 squadrons of gendarmes compared to just 12 last weekend. 
In total, some 5,000 police and gendarmes will be deployed in the capital, a figure which compares to the numbers deployed during the most violent 'yellow vest' protests, with the Interior Ministry also planning back-up in case the situation takes a turn for the worse. 
At the end of the 22nd day of mobilization on April 13th, Castaner, warned: "The threat seems greater for April 20th", adding that there were "calls almost inviting people to destroy Paris".
While the French capital does seem to be the focus for this weekend, other cities in France are also taking precautions. 
In Toulouse, it will be banned to carry hunting weapons without a legitimate motive, as well as to transport and use dangerous, flammable or chemical products.
Meanwhile in Bordeaux, the centre will be banned to the protesters, and precautions will also be taken in Montpellier.
There are also 'yellow vest' events planned for Lille and Lyon .
Who are the Black Bloc?
"Black bloc" protesters fall on the extreme left of the political spectrum and regularly clash with police at demonstrations around the world. They are also described as anti-capitalists, anti-globalization, anarchists and anti-fascists.
During demonstrations individuals dressed in black, mask their faces, then meet to create "a kind of huge black flag made up of human beings", political scientist Francis Dupuis-Déri, who has written a book on the subject, told FranceInfo.
"They thus form a compact block allowing everyone to remain anonymous" and making it very difficult to arrest them. 
On Saturday March 16th -- when the Black Blocs were last involved in the protests -- dozens of luxury stores attacked and kiosks burned.
Their aim is to target signs of "capitalist oppression" such as banks, chain stories advertising panels and designer stores, without leaving civilian victims. Although that is not always the case given they recently set fire to a bank near the Champs-Elysées where families were living above and had to be evacuated.
They also target the police with violence.


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Anonymous 2019/04/19 17:00
I think it's high time that we stopped identifying these people as 'gilets jaunes' and called them what they really are - radical extremists who just want to create mayhem and destruction at no cost to themselves.<br />Tolerance with protests in France is embedded in the French psyche, but this goes way beyond that. <br />It's time for the authorities to stop worrying about the social politics and deal with this dangerous uprising before innocent residents / bystanders get killed or maimed; then President Macron really would have something to worry about!

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