PARIS — Entire sections of central Paris, usually bustling with Christmas shoppers at this time of year, were deserted on Saturday as police faced off against protesters across town in the fourth weekend of violent antigovernment protests.
Thousands of stores erected wooden barricades and remained shut, as did major tourist attractions and museums, including the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre museum, the Centre Pompidou, the Fondation Louis Vuitton and the Paris Opera, effectively turning Paris into a ghost town — except for the 10,000 protesters in yellow safety vests who descended on the French capital.
Several thousand demonstrators gathered on the Avenue des Champs-Elysées, surrounded by a heavy police presence. Though there were some skirmishes, the protests remained mostly peaceful. Vandals tore down the wooden panels that had been erected around the Publicis Drugstore to erect a makeshift barrier, but were quickly repelled by riot police.
Armored cars rolled up the Boulevard Sébastopol, in scenes rarely seen in Paris, as security forces switched strategy and used mobile units to patrol and help prevent the widespread damage to businesses and monuments seen last week.
Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said 1,385 people were detained and 974 remained in custody as of 6 p.m. local time, adding that those figures was set to climb. Protesters arriving in Paris early on Saturday were subjected to searches, during which police confiscated gas masks, projectiles, knives, batons and fireworks.
“The escalation of the violence has been stopped. It is now at a level that is contained, to be sure, but still totally unacceptable,” Castaner told a news conference.
A total of 125,000 people nationwide took part in the “gilets jaunes” movement, which began as discontent over a fuel tax, but has broadened to encompass a range of frustrations over declining living standards, taking a violent turn that has caught the country by surprise and thrown the government of French President Emmanuel Macron into crisis.
A total of 118 protesters and 17 police officers were injured, down from 201 protesters and 284 police officers on Dec. 1, Castaner said, crediting a “plan based on responsiveness, mobility and immediate intervention” that allowed security forces to “counter the momentum of hooligans every time they tried to regroup.”
While the violence was contained, the store closures are expected to cost the retail sector millions of euros in lost business. French daily Le Figaro quoted Anne Haine, managing director of Nielsen France, as estimating the impact on retail so far at 400 million euros, of which 200 million euros were deferred sales, and 200 million euros lost business.
Business leaders hope Macron will succeed in quelling the protest when he addresses the nation next week. The French president has been virtually invisible since returning from a G20 summit in Argentina a week ago.
Prime Minister Édouard Philippe, who has stepped up to the plate, said on Saturday that security forces remained vigilant and mobilized, while holding out hope that dialogue will prevail. “We must now restore national unity through dialogue, work and rallying together,” he said.