Tourist attractions and museums in central Paris have said they will not open on Saturday, when fresh gilets jaunes (yellow vests) protests are planned, as French authorities prepared to deploy 65,000 security personnel across the country.
“The demonstrations announced on Saturday 8 December in Paris do not allow us to welcome visitors in safe conditions,” said the operator of the Eiffel Tower in a statement on Thursday. Police have also ordered about a dozen museums, including the Louvre and the Grand Palais, cultural sites such as the Opera and shops along the Champs-Élysées to close over fears of violence. “We cannot take the risk when we know the threat,” Franck Riester, the culture minister, told RTL radio. Several top-league football matches have also been cancelled.
As senior ministers sought to defuse public fury with conciliatory language on taxes, an official in Emmanuel Macron’s office risked provoking more anger by saying that intelligence suggested that some protesters would come to the capital “to vandalise and to kill”.
Despite capitulating this week over the plans for higher fuel taxes that inspired the nationwide revolt, the president has struggled to quell the anger that last weekend led to the worst street unrest in central Paris since 1968.
Rioters torched cars, vandalised cafes, looted shops and sprayed anti-Macron graffiti across some of Paris’s most affluent districts, even defacing the Arc de Triomphe. Scores of people were hurt and hundreds arrested in battles with police.
In a bid to end the three-week crisis, the prime minister, Édouard Philippe, told parliament late on Wednesday that he was scrapping the fuel-tax increases planned for 2019, having announced a six-month suspension the day before.
The finance minister, Bruno Le Maire, told a conference he was prepared to bring forward tax-cutting plans and that he wanted workers’ bonuses to be tax free.
But he added: “In this case, it must go hand-in-hand with a decrease in spending.”
He also said France would impose a tax on big internet firms in 2019 if there was no consensus on an EU-wide levy, seeking to appeal to anti-business sentiment among the protesters.
The threat of more violence poses a security nightmare for the authorities, who make a distinction between the peaceful gilets jaunes protesters and violent groups, anarchists and looters from the deprived suburbs who they say have infiltrated the movement.
On Facebook groups and across social media, the gilets jaunes are calling for an “act 4”, a reference to what would be a fourth weekend of disorder.
“France is fed up!! We will be there in bigger numbers, stronger, standing up for French people. Meet in Paris on Dec 8,” said one group’s banner.
The education minister, Jean-Michel Blanquer, urged people to stay at home this weekend. Security sources said the government was considering using troops currently deployed on anti-terrorism patrols to protect public buildings.
The protests, named after the fluorescent jackets French motorists are required to keep in their cars, erupted in November over the squeeze on household budgets caused by fuel taxes. Demonstrations swiftly grew into a broad, sometimes violent, rebellion against Macron.
The protesters have no formal leader and their demands are diverse. They include changes to a tax system perceived as unfair and unjust, higher salaries and Macron’s resignation.
France’s hard-left CGT trade union on Thursday called on its energy industry workers to walk out for 48 hours from 13 December, saying it wanted to join forces with the gilets jaunes.
The fuel tax volte-face was the first major U-turn of Macron’s 18-month presidency.
The unrest has exposed deep-seated resentment among non-city dwellers with a perception that Macron is out of touch with the middle and working classes. They see the 40-year-old former investment banker as closer to big business and the rich.
Trouble is also brewing elsewhere for Macron. Teenage students blocked access to more than 200 high schools across the country on Thursday, burning garbage bins and setting a car alight in the western city of Nantes.
Farmers, who have long complained that retailers are squeezing their margins and are furious over a delay to the planned rise in minimum food prices, and truckers are threatening to strike from Sunday.
Le Maire said France was no longer spared from the wave of populism that had swept across Europe. “It’s only that in France, it’s not manifesting itself at the ballot box, but in the streets.”