Anti-government gilets jaunes (yellow vests) protesters will be banned from demonstrating near Paris’s fire-ravaged Notre Dame Cathedral on Saturday, as the police chief warned that any plans to march on the banks of the river Seine near the site were “pure provocation”.
The French interior minister, Christophe Castaner, warned that rioters would be on the streets in several major cities in France on Saturday but “particularly Paris”. He suggested that extremist groups and troublemakers were planning to repeat the scenes of arson, looting and vandalism by masked men which took place on Paris’s Champs-Elysées last month on the edge of anti-government marches by demonstrators. He urged against Paris becoming “the capital of rioters” for the day.
Over 60,000 police and gendarmes will be deployed across France, including 5,000 in Paris, where police will secure the area surrounding Île de la Cité, the island on which Notre Dame sits, and which has been closed except to residents and workers in recent days.
Gilets jaunes demonstrators had pre-planned this Saturday’s street marches before Notre Dame, one of Europe’s great architectural masterpieces, caught fire on Monday night with its spire collapsing and two-thirds of the roof destroyed.
But the huge amount of money pledged by billionaire donors and businesses to restore the gothic cathedral has been seen by some as a sign of the vast inequality between rich and poor in France.
More than Over $1bn has already been pledged by ordinary worshippers and wealthy people around the world to restore Notre Dame.
Some trade unionists and gilets jaunes said the huge amount of money donated in the past few days, particularly by big French businesses, had highlighted the complacency of those in power and business to find solutions for low-income workers unable to make ends meet.
Ingrid Levavasseur, a key figure in the gilets jaunes movement, said she understood and shared the nation’s pain over the cathedral fire but added: “I’d just like us to get back to reality.” She denounced what she called the “inertia of big business groups” towards the struggles of the working poor when at the same time had proved they could produce a huge amount of cash for Notre Dame “in just one night”.
Others criticised the potential tax breaks for billionaires’ charitable donations, which have caused anger among campaigners for tax equality. Some large donors have since insisted they will forfeit any tax deductions.
“The fact the oligarchy is giving to Notre Dame is fine, but tax exemplarity would be better,” tweeted Benjamin Cauchy, standing on a rightwing list for the European elections. He suggested rich donors making themselves feel good by donating “doesn’t hide misery and austerity”.
Thierry-Paul Valette, who is running on a European election list which includes gilets jaunes, said demonstrators were still awaiting a response from President Emmanuel Macron to their concerns about salaries and tax equality.
Some gilets jaunes said the Notre Dame fire was not a reason to cancel protests.
On gilets jaunes roundabout blockades, some protestors told local media that Macron, who promised this week to rebuild the cathedral in what some experts see as an impossibly short five years, was trying to use the Notre Dame fire to suggest a moment of national unity, when worries among low-income workers were still as acute as before.
The cathedral caught fire, in what police are treating as an accident, just as Macron was due to announce new measures to try to calm gilets jaunes demonstrations on Monday night. The anti-government movement, which began five months ago as a fuel-tax protest defined by participants’ fluorescent yellow vests, has continued each Saturday in some towns and cities – with varying turnouts and clashes with police.
This Saturday’s protests expected in Paris, Toulouse, Montpelier and Bordeaux had been scheduled to mark their dissatisfaction with Macron’s nationwide listening-process, known as the “great debate”, in which the government had promised to take on board voters’ suggestions.
Architects and experts were on Friday assessing how to stabilise the cathedral’s structure and install a wide tarpaulin over the gaping hole left by the burned roof, to prevent rain causing further damage and weakness to the building. They must also establish how to take down the 250 tons of damaged steel scaffolding that had been put up around the building for building works in recent months.
Notre Dame’s Easter services, which traditionally attract a large number of worshippers, will instead take place this weekend at Saint-Eustache church in central Paris.