French yellow vests protest in Paris amid tighter security

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Yellow Vest protesters hold signs reading “RIC (Citizens Initiated Referendum), as they gather on Denfert Rochereau Square in Paris on March 23, 2019, during an anti-government demonstration called by the ‘Yellow Vest’ (gilets jaunes) movement in Paris. (AFP)
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Protesters march past the Notre-Dame de Paris Cathedral during an anti-government demonstration called by the "Yellow Vests" (Gilets jaunes) movement in Paris, on March 23, 2019. (AFP)
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French riot police officers move in line close to Denfert Rochereau Square in Paris on March 23, 2019, during an anti-government demonstration called by the 'Yellow Vest' (gilets jaunes) movement. (AFP)
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A Yellow Vest protester holds a sign reading "RIC (Citizens Initiated Referendum), during an anti-government demonstration called by the 'Yellow Vest' (gilets jaunes) movement in Paris, on March 23, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 23 March 2019
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French yellow vests protest in Paris amid tighter security

  • The Champs-Elysees was almost empty Saturday except for a huge police presence
  • Paris police detained 51 people by early afternoon, issued 29 fines and conducted 4,688 “preventive checks” on protesters entering the capital

PARIS: Thousands of French yellow vest demonstrators were marching through Paris on Saturday as authorities enforced bans on protests in certain areas and displayed enhanced security measures to avoid a repeat of last week’s riots in the capital.
The crowd gathered peacefully Saturday at Denfert-Rochereau Square in southern Paris and then headed north. The protesters are expected to finish Saturday’s march in the tourist-heavy neighborhood of Montmartre around its signature monument, the hilltop Sacre-Coeur Cathedral.
French authorities have banned protests from the Champs-Elysees Avenue in Paris and the central neighborhoods of several other cities including Bordeaux, Toulouse, Marseille and Nice in the south, and Rouen in western France.
The Champs-Elysees was almost empty Saturday except for a huge police presence. Scores of shops were looted and ransacked last weekend, and some were set on fire by protesters. Fear of more violence certainly kept tourists away, and police shut down the Champs-Elysees subway stations as a precaution.
Paris police detained 51 people by early afternoon, issued 29 fines and conducted 4,688 “preventive checks” on protesters entering the capital.
In Nice, police dispersed a few hundred protesters who gathered on a central plaza. The city was placed under high security measures as Chinese President Xi Jinping was expected to stay overnight on Sunday as part of his state visit to France.
The new Paris police chief, Didier Lallement, who took charge following the destruction wrought by last week’s protests, said specific police units have been created to react faster to any violence.
About 6,000 police officers were deployed in the capital on Saturday and two drones were helping to monitor the demonstrations. French authorities also deployed soldiers to protect sensitive sites, allowing police forces to focus on maintaining order during the protests.
President Emmanuel Macron on Friday dismissed criticism from opposition leaders regarding the involvement of the military, saying they are not taking over police duties.
“Those trying to scare people, or to scare themselves, are wrong,” he said in Brussels.
Christelle Camus, a yellow vest protester from a southern suburb of Paris, called using French soldiers to help ensure security “a great nonsense.”
“Since when do soldiers face a population? We are here in France. You would say that we are here in (North) Korea or in China. I never saw something like this,” she said.
Last week’s surge in violence came as support for the 4-month-old anti-government yellow vest movement has been dwindling, mostly as a reaction to the riots by some protesters.
The protests started in November to oppose fuel tax hikes but have expanded into a broader rejection of Macron’s economic policies, which protesters say favor businesses and the wealthy over ordinary French workers. Macron countered by dropping the fuel tax hike and holding months of discussions with the public on France’s stagnant wages, high taxes and high unemployment.
The yellow vest movement was named after the fluorescent garments that French motorists must carry in their vehicles for emergencies.


Police official: Short-circuit likely caused Notre Dame fire

Updated 6 min 18 sec ago
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Police official: Short-circuit likely caused Notre Dame fire

  • Authorities have said Notre Dame was in danger of going up in flames before fire crews stopped it from spreading into a tower belfry

PARIS: Paris police investigators think an electrical short-circuit most likely caused the fire at Notre Dame Cathedral, a police official said Thursday as France paid a daylong tribute to the firefighters who saved the world-renowned landmark.
A French judicial police official told The Associated Press that investigators made an initial assessment of the cathedral Wednesday but don’t have a green light to search Notre Dame’s charred interior because of ongoing safety hazards.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak by name about an ongoing investigation, said the cathedral’s fragile walls were being shored up with wooden planks.
Earlier in the afternoon, French President Emmanuel Macron held a ceremony at the Elysee Palace to thank the hundreds of firefighters who battled the fast-moving for nine hours starting Monday evening. Authorities have said Notre Dame, which dates from the 12th century, was in danger of going up in flames before fire crews stopped it from spreading into a tower belfry.
Fire responders also rescued many of the important relics and works of art inside the cathedral.
“We’ve seen before our eyes the right things perfectly organized in a few moments, with responsibility, courage, solidarity and a meticulous organization,” Macron said. “The worst has been avoided.”
Macron said the firefighters will receive an Honor Medal for their courage and devotion.
As the ceremony took place, investigators continued seeking clues to what sparked the fire. The huge cathedral, including the spire that was consumed by flames and collapsed, was in the initial stages of a lengthy restoration.
Investigators so far believe the fire was accidental, and are questioning both cathedral staff and workers who were carrying out renovations. Some 40 people had been questioned by Thursday, according the Paris prosecutor’s office.
Fire officials warned that the building remains unstable and extremely dangerous, including for the construction workers who rushed to secure an area above one of the rose-shaped windows and other vulnerable sections of the fire-damaged structure.
Workers using a crane were removing some statues to lessen the weight on the cathedral’s fragile gables, or support walls, and to keep them from falling, since the section lacked the support of the massive timber roof that burned up in the devastating blaze.
Police, citing “important risks” of collapse and falling objects, officially closed Thursday a large swath of the island in the Seine River on which Notre Dame sits. The area had been unofficially blocked off since the fire.
Paris City Hall also was holding a ceremony in the firefighters’ honor Monday afternoon, with a Bach violin concert, two giant banners strung from the monumental city headquarters and readings from Victor Hugo’s “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.”
Remarkably, no one was killed in the fire, which began during a Mass, after firefighters and church officials speedily evacuated those inside.
Among the firefighters honored Thursday was Paris fire brigade chaplain Jean-Marc Fournier, who says he was falsely credited with helping salvage the crown of thorns believed to have been worn by Jesus at his crucifixion.
The chaplain said a team of rescuers broke the relic’s protective covering and an official who had the secret code to unlock the protection finished the job. Fournier told France Info on Thursday that his own team arrived on the heels of the salvaging and praised the action “to preserve this extraordinary relic, this patrimony of humanity.”
However, Fournier told the daily Le Parisian that he himself was able to save the most precious thing for Catholics from the fire, the cathedral’s consecrated hosts. The paper said he climbed on altars to remove large paintings, but that he felt especially proud of another personal salvaging operation: “to have removed Jesus” from the Cathedral.
For Catholics, consecrated hosts are the body of Christ.
Among others honored was Myriam Chudzinski, one of the first firefighters to reach the roof as the blaze raged. Loaded with gear, they climbed hundreds of steps up the cathedral’s narrow spiral staircase to the top of one of the two towers. She had trained at the site for hours for just this moment.
“We knew that the roof was burning, but we didn’t really know the intensity,” she told reporters. “It was from upstairs that you understood that it was really dramatic. It was very hot and we had to retreat, retreat. It was spreading quickly.”
The building would have burned to the ground in a “chain-reaction collapse” had firefighters not moved as rapidly as they did to battle the blaze racing through the building, José Vaz de Matos, a fire expert with France’s Culture Ministry, said Wednesday.
An initial fire alert was sounded at 6:20 p.m., as a Mass was underway in the cathedral, but no fire was found. A second alarm went off at 6:43 p.m., and the blaze was discovered already consuming the roof.
Macron wants to rebuild the cathedral within five years — in time for the 2024 Summer Olympics that Paris is hosting — but experts say the vast scale of the work to be done could easily take 15 years, since it will take months, even years, just to figure out what should be done. Nearly $1 billion has been pledged for the cathedral’s restoration.
Benedicte Contamin, who came to view the damaged cathedral from afar Thursday, said she’s sad but grateful it’s still there.
“It’s a chance for France to bounce back, a chance to realize what unites us, because we have been too much divided over the past years,” she said.