PARIS — Over 800,000 demonstrators protesting pension reforms in France swept Paris and other cities around the country Thursday, disrupting transportation and shutting schools, with sporadic flareups of violence at a time when the all-important holiday spending season is normally entering full swing.
Police deployed a force of 6,000 in the capital, where thousands took to the streets in mostly peaceful marches but with sporadic clashes. By evening, police had made 90 arrests.
“Violent individuals once again interfered in the marches and targeted security forces, causing damage,” noted the country’s Ministry of Interior.
Local government authorities had ordered the closure of stores and restaurants along the main boulevards stretching across eastern parts of the capital and yellow vest protests were banned in the neighborhood of the Avenue des Champs-Élysées.
The yellow vest protest movement, which initially grew out of frustrations over declining economic conditions, became violent late last year, erupting into street battles that pitted demonstrators against police and transforming the Champs-Élysées into a war zone. Many parts of the city were closed during the crucial holiday season last year.
The yellow vests were back this November to mark the movement’s first anniversary, taking to the Place d’Italie, on the southern edge of the capital, and prompting the closure of a local mall. The involvement of the so-called black blocs, a group of anarchists and anticapitalist vandals, added to tensions.
Thursday’s protests have put retailers on edge, reigniting worries that images of tear gas, burning debris and skirmishes with police would spook high-spending tourists, and prompt locals to stay home.
The French textile sector is already struggling, with the country’s sales of clothing and textiles down 1.3 percent in value terms in the first nine months of the year, according to the Institut Français de la Mode.
It was business as usual for many stores across the capital Thursday, like Galeries Lafayette department stores, including Le BHV Marais near the Seine river, and Printemps, which has a store on the eastern side of the capital where the marches passed by early in the day.
Thursday’s disruptions are set to spill into Friday, with the country’s train operator noting that train traffic would remain greatly diminished across the country while the RATP metro operator in Paris warned that service would remain limited through Monday.
Also looming large in retailers’ minds are protests that swept France in 1995, when a government austerity plan caused walkouts across sectors that lasted for weeks.