ID checks on the Champs-Elysees as France tries to head off protests

Paris (AFP) –


French authorities are to bar traffic from the Champs-Elysees in Paris on Saturday and allow in pedestrians only after ID checks in an effort to prevent a repeat of "yellow vest" protests that have shaken the government.

Interior Minister Christophe Castaner announced the measures on Thursday in an interview with state television.

He said all access to the Champs-Elysees would be "very tight", with bag searches and systematic requests for identity papers from anybody trying to enter.

Extra police would be on hand and in case of "provocations... we will make arrests and will deliver them to justice," he said.

Police sources told AFP that up to 5,000 officers could be mobilised in the operation.

The unusual measures come after the luxury shopping avenue was the scene last weekend of an unauthorised protest by demonstrators angry at high fuel taxes and government policies which turned violent, with makeshift roadblocks thrown up and set on fire. Other protests took place across the country.

The protest movement is called the "yellow vests" after the high-visibility jackets the demonstrators wear -- a required safety garment that has to be carried in cars in France. It started two weeks ago, snowballing from grievances voiced in less-well-off rural and non-urban areas.

Much of the movement's anger is directed at President Emmanuel Macron, who is broadly unpopular and seen as arrogant as he tries to bring about economic reforms that so far have had no effect in boosting citizens' spending power.

Macron has vowed to forge on with his policies, saying they were "necessary" to improve France's pro-environmental shift -- though he insisted repeatedly he had heard the protesters' anger.

Castaner has sought to portray the "yellow vest" movement as directed by hard-right and hard-left political groups. In his TV interview, he spoke again of "the ultra-left and ultra-right" intent on violence.

But the protesters themselves reject any political affiliation and say their grievances are grassroot and genuine.

An online petition launched by one of their members in Paris calling for fuel taxes to be cut received over a million signatures by Thursday, making it one of top two most popular in France on the website.