France protests: Paris tourist sites to close amid fears over 'gilets jaunes' action
Joshua Berlinger and Saskya Vandoorne, CNN - France is bracing for yet another weekend of protests that could rock Paris and other parts of the country.
Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said the government was deploying 89,000 troops across France -- including 8,000 in the capital -- in case the demonstrations turn violent again.
Many of the capital's famed sites -- including the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, the Musée Delacroix and the Paris Opera -- will close over the weekend in advance of the protests, organized by the "gilets jaunes" or "yellow vests" movement. Their name comes from the high-visibility yellow vests that drivers are required to keep in their vehicles for safety reasons.
Nationwide, some 630 people were arrested and more than 260 were injured, including 81 police officers, in protests last weekend, the third consecutive week of such demonstrations.
There have also been four accidental deaths, according to officials. Three of them resulted from traffic accidents related to the blockades and the fourth was an 80-year-old woman who died in Marseille after being hit by a tear gas canister that came through her window.
The demonstrations began as a form of grassroots opposition to rising gas prices and planned increases in taxes on polluting forms of transport, but they have since evolved into broader demonstrations against the government of President Emmanuel Macron.
Macron appeared to back down Wednesday, announcing the fuel taxes would not be introduced in 2019. But the movement now appears to be about more than just taxes; it's exposed the growing divide between Paris' metropolitan elite and the country's rural poor.
Maxime Nicolle, a member of the gilets jaunes, told CNN: "I'm definitely not backing down now. The moratorium is useless. The people want a referendum, a referendum on Macron, the senate and the national assembly."
Many of those protesting have been people who moved out of Paris and into the suburbs due to rising real estate prices. Suburban protesters, like those from rural areas, argue that they're disproportionately affected by the now-shelved gas tax, as they rely on gasoline and cars much more than city-dwellers.
It's unclear if the demonstrations will be as violent or as large this weekend as they have been previously. The number of protesters peaked last month but has been slowly on the decline.
Since mid-November, 1,648 people have been injured in total, including 552 police officers, the Interior Ministry said. More than 1,600 people have been taken in for questioning and 1,387 have been arrested.
Small retailers, hotels and restaurants have all seen their takings fall significantly as a result of the protests, according to the French Ministry of Finance.
While large protests are common in France, they're usually organized in a top-down fashion by the country's powerful unions. By contrast, the gilets jaunes protests began as a grassroots movement that emerged online, with Facebook events set up by citizens mostly from rural areas, who are struggling to make ends meet.
Dominique Moisi, a foreign policy expert at the Paris-based Institut Montaigne and a former Macron campaign adviser, told CNN the French presidency was not only in crisis but that Europe's future also hung in the balance.
"In a few months from now there will be European elections, and France was supposed to be the carrier of hope and European progress. What happens if it's no longer? If the president is incapacitated to carry that message?" Moisi said.
"It's about the future of democracy, as well, illiberal democracies are rising all over the world. And if Macron fails, the future of France risks looking like the presidency of Italy today. And it's much more serious because we have a centralized state which plays a major role in the balance of power within Europe.
"But make no mistake, it is a French version of a much more global phenomenon."