‘Of course we’re scared’: Paris prepares for the worst

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Last weekend's 'unprecedented violence' saw buildings set alight, dozens of restaurants and shops sacked and pillaged and over 100 cars burned in the plush west of Paris around the Arc de Triomphe, the Champs-Elysees and Opera.

Protesters are due once again to descend on the area on Saturday and residents are naturally scared.

"Of course I'm scared about what will happen tomorrow and I'm not planning to leave the house," Isabelle Rochas told The Local

In preparation for tomorrow's protests, police authorities are preparing to deploy around 8,000 officers in the French capital as well as having 12 armored vehicles ready to use if Saturday's protests descend into violence.

And the French presidency said on Thursday that it fears "major violence" will occur during the demonstrations and the interior ministry has spoken of the likely presence of the "extreme-right who dream of a revolution and the extreme-left who advocate insurrection".

So, with this in mind, it's little surprise that residents living on the avenues surrounding the Arc de Triomphe monument, are nervous about Act IV (Act 4) — the name given to the fourth weekend of protests in France.

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Shop windows being boarded up ahead of the December 1st protests. Photo: AFP

'Ruining other people's lives'

"At the beginning I was in favour of the gilets jaunes and what they were trying to do but since last week it seems to have degenerated into a movement of people whose goal is to destroy everything," said Rochas.

"The problem is people keep talking about these casseurs (hard core rioters) but I think some of the yellow vests who were originally reasonable and fairly mild have been swept up in the violence because they think it's the only way they can get what they want."

Another resident agreed that last week's violence had changed their opinion on the 'yellow vests'.

"There are legitimate problems in France, with a growing gap between the rich and the poor, but that's no reason to smash other people's property and make fellow citizens suffer," said Guillaume Bayou.

"I'm worried that they will keep on doing this with the more extreme elements getting angrier and angrier but I don't know how they expect to have people's support if they're using this kind of violence."

Some residents have decided that they are not taking any risks this weekend and are taking measures such as leaving for the weekend or moving their cars.

Demonstrators hold a banner reading "People in dire straits, let's kill the bourgeois" during the December 1st protests. Photo: AFP

"I'm not staying around to see how bad it gets," one resident who did not want to be named told The Local. "These people shouldn't be able to stop others living their lives the way they want to."

"In France you are allowed to protest and that is right but it's one thing to protest and another thing to ruin other people's lives."

Another resident said he would be moving his car due to the "lamentable" situation, saying he didn't want to discuss the 'yellow vests' in detail because he "hates them".

Many shops and apartment blocks were being boarded up on the streets leading off the Champs-Elysees on Friday morning as the graffiti from last week's protests remained intact.

The owner of L'Etoile Venitienne cafe on Avenue Kleber, who only gave her name as Madame Co told The Local that she would be closing for the day after the front window was smashed last weekend.

"I'm scared about what will happen tomorrow and I'm worried it will continue for a long time to come," she said.

"The ordinary people with genuine concerns that seemed to start the movement need to separate themselves from the extremists and call themselves something different if they want support."

Another cafe owner said they would also be shutting up tomorrow and boarding the windows because their insurance provider had advised them to.

However not everyone was concerned by the prospect of further protests.

"If I was a shop owner or business owner I would be worried but I'm not concerned for my own safety," said Eric Dupont who lives and works in the area.

"I think they'll target big shops not apartment buildings," he said.

"We [the French] are revolutionaries," said Dupont. "It's what we know and how we know to get things done. I see where they're coming from but I can't justify the violence."

Surprisingly one resident said he thought the violence was in fact justified and that it was necessary for the gilets jaunes to pursue it in order to get the government to listen.

The businesses and residents of the area surrounding the Champs-Elysées are battening down the hatches ahead of tomorrow's protests. Some people living in the area are moving their cars or leaving town for the weekend. #GiletsJaunes pic.twitter.com/HSIg0h9ZZH

— Evie Burrows-Taylor (@Eviebt) December 7, 2018

Macron 'the scapegoat'?

When it came to the question of what the government and French President Emmanuel Macron could and should do to help the situation, people were divided.

Some believed the French president was merely a scapegoat for decades of problems.

"The problem for the government is it's a mix of people who are demonstrating, with different goals and politics," said Dupont. "The government has already given into scrapping the fuel tax but they can't keep bending over because they'll no longer be seen as credible."

"The yellow vests hate Macron because he is hard on them but really France is a very hard country to lead and he is suffering for 30-40 years of mistakes."

"Now it feels like a bit like they [the 'yellow vests'] are destroying for the sake of destroying."

A workman removing a grate on the Champs-Elysees ahead of the December 1st protests. Photo: AFP

Dupont went on to say that he thought that people in other countries were experiencing the same problems as the ones the gilets jaunes were protesting over in France.

"You see it in Britain with Brexit and in the US with Trump but the way we deal with it in France is to take to the streets. I don't think anyone has found the solution"

Others said the president needed to "find a solution and quickly".

"He can't let this just carry on," said Isabelle Rochas who lives in the area. "But on the other hand I don't have the answers.

"There are people suffering that's for sure and now we are being made to pay.

"Something must be done."

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