PARIS — The French government has announced special measures to avoid a repeat of the scenes of violence and looting on the Avenue des Champs-Elysées last weekend, as protesters gear up for another round of demonstrations on Saturday against the policies of President Emmanuel Macron.
The shopping thoroughfare, home to brands including Louis Vuitton, Apple, Tiffany & Co. and Nike, will be closed to traffic, and pedestrian access will be tightly controlled with identity checks and bag searches, Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said.
“We have decided to seal off the Champs-Elysées to traffic but to open it to pedestrians who wish to come, first of all to support the retailers,” he told French television channel France 3 on Thursday night.
“Not only will the perimeter be secured, but there will be police officers on site and we will punish, arrest and prosecute for any damages or provocations,” Castaner added.
The French government this week unveiled emergency measures to help retailers compensate for the impact of protests by demonstrators in reflective safety vests — known as “gilets jaunes,” or “yellow vests” — who have blocked roads and vandalized stores, causing foot traffic to plummet during the crucial holiday spending season.
Retail sales were down 35 percent compared with the same period a year ago on Nov. 17, on the first weekend of protests, and fell 18 percent on Nov. 24, according to Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire.
Castaner said the grassroots movement, which started life as a protest against fuel taxes and has since grown to encompass a range of demands, had been infiltrated by hooligans. He added that members of ultra-left and ultra-right movements were again preparing to join Saturday’s demonstration.
Security forces arrested more than 100 people last weekend after protesters erected barricades, torched cars, ripped up pavements and vandalized stores during a 12-hour standoff that left 24 injured, including five police officers. Police responded with water cannons, tear gas and rubber bullets.
Participants, some wearing yellow vests, were filmed pillaging a recently opened Christian Dior Parfums store on the Champs-Elysées. A Givenchy store on a neighboring street was also looted.
In a cabinet meeting on Monday, Macron said he was worried about the effect of the spectacular images on France’s image overseas. “One shouldn’t underestimate the impact on public opinion, in France and abroad, of seeing in the media what looked like war scenes,” he was quoted as saying.
Castaner estimated the number of protesters across France at 12,000, and said a peak of 65,000 security forces were mobilized last weekend, with a “phenomenal” amount suffering injuries, including a police officer who stands to lose an eye after a demonstrator on the Champs-Elysées lobbed a homemade explosive device at him.
He noted that since the “gilets jaunes” have no official leadership, they had yet to file a permit to protest, as required by French law. “This country guarantees the right to demonstrate, but we don’t have the right to block the free movement of others,” Castaner added.