France mobilised tens of thousands of police officers and made plans to shut down tourist attractions like the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre on the eve of anti-government protests that authorities feared could be even more violent than ones that have crippled the country for weeks.
The drastic security measures will put central Paris in a lockdown today, disrupting the plans of tens of thousands of tourists and residents.
Hundreds of shops in Paris planned to shut their doors as well, preferring to lose business during the key holiday shopping period rather than have their windows smashed in and their merchandise looted, as happened to many Paris stores last Saturday when an anti-government protest over rising taxes turned into a riot.
Yesterday, workers across Paris lugged pieces of plywood and hammered boards over the windows of shops and businesses - making the plush Champs-Elysees neighbourhood appear like it was bracing for a hurricane.
Some top French officials said that description was not far off.
“According to the information we have, some radicalised and rebellious people will try to get mobilised tomorrow,” Interior Minister Christophe Castaner told a press conference yesterday. “Some ultra-violent people want to take part.”
Authorities say 8,000 police will fan out across Paris, equipped with a dozen barricade-busting armored vehicles that could be used for the first time in a French urban area since the 2005 riots.
“These vehicles can be very useful to protect buildings,” said Stanislas Gaudon, head of the Alliance police union. “And in case they set up barricades, we can quickly clear out the space and let our units progress.”
Paris police, fearing that radical protesters could turn street furniture and construction materials into makeshift weapons, were removing all glass containers, railings and construction machines in high-risk areas. Those included the world-renowned Champs-Elysees Avenue, which would normally be packed with tourists and shoppers on a Saturday in early December.
The Nicolas wine chain, one of the biggest retailers in the country, canceled all its wine tasting sessions scheduled for today.
“It’s with an immense sadness that we’ll see our city partially brought to a halt, but your safety is our priority,” Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo said. “Take care of Paris on Saturday because Paris belongs to all the French people.”
Across the country, France is mobilising some 89,000 police, up from 65,000 last weekend, when more than 130 people were injured and over 400 arrested.