PARIS—If social-media trends prove correct, “Act IV” of France’s so-called yellow vest movement—a reference to the fourth week of protests over fuel tax hikes planned for Dec. 8—will be the biggest yet.
Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said 89,000 police nationwide would be deployed, about 8,000 of which would be placed in Paris, where rioters torched cars and looted shops off the famed Champs Elysees boulevard, and defaced the Arc de Triomphe with graffiti directed at President Emmanuel Macron.
Local officials in 15 areas around the capital were also asked to remove anything in the streets that could be used as projectiles.
In addition to the increased police presence, 12 armored vehicles belonging to the gendarmerie, part of the military, will be deployed for the first time in a French city since 2005, when riots broke out in the capital’s suburbs.
There is concern about far-right, anarchist and anti-capitalist groups like the Black Bloc, which have piggybacked off the ‘yellow vest’ movement.
The demonstrations began in November to push back against Macron’s planned fuel tax hikes—equivalent to about 25 cents a gallon—as part of his climate change-related policies.
On Dec. 1, the most violent day of the protests to date, demonstrators set vehicles on fire, destroyed property, and clashed with police. In its latest update, police assessed the damage at more than $4 million.
In response to the demonstrations, Macron initially announced Dec. 3 that the tax hikes would be suspended for six months. He later said that the tax increase would be scrapped altogether, making an appeal for calm.
For some, however, Macron’s retreat isn’t good enough.
There are close to 100 social-media groups related to the yellow vest movement, organized by different regions and “black blocks,” a label referring to violent protesters.
Sources close to the presidency have warned of a potential coup in French media, although those claims couldn’t be independently verified.
French Le Figaro reported that Macron asked his cabinet not to go to government buildings this weekend.
The unrest has exposed the deep-seated resentment among non-city dwellers that Macron, whose popularity is now at about 20 percent, is out-of-touch with the hard-pressed middle class and blue-collar workers. They see the 40-year-old former investment banker as closer to big business.
Trouble is also brewing elsewhere for Macron. Teenage students on Dec. 6 blocked access to more than 200 high schools across the country and clashed with security forces. About 700 students were arrested, French media reported.
Farmers and truckers are also threatening blockages and strikes from Dec. 9.
Reuters contributed to this report