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France

Versailles Palace closes as Yellow Vest protests continue

media Yellow Vests: The Versailles Palace, a top tourist destination in France, closed on Saturday 22 December RFI/Clémence Denavit

Yellow Vests protesters have taken to the streets of France for a sixth consecutive weekend, with numbers appearing to dwindle. The tourist hotspot of the Palace of Versailles has been closed amid fears of unrest as thousands prepared to descend on the symbolic former residence of the beheaded King Louis XVI.

French "gilets jaunes", or Yellow Vests, prepared for a sixth weekend of nationwide demonstrations Saturday, but numbers on the streets are falling fast as the police clear protest camps in the run-up to the Christmas holidays.

However, a further fatality was reported in the early hours of Saturday in the southern city of Perpignan, when a 36-year-old male driver slammed into the back of a truck that had been stopped at a Yellow Vest blockade.

Ten people have now been killed since the demonstrations and blockades began.

Protesters were split Friday on whether to stage another large rally in Paris, or in the nearby city of Versailles, formerly the residence of King Louis XVI, who lost his head to the guillotine.

Fearing possible unrest, authorities said they were closing the Palace of Versailles and its gardens on Saturday.

A Facebook event organised by "yellow demonstration with a further 8,000 people saying they were "interested".

Shopkeepers in Paris have been urged to exercise caution, following the recent weeks of violent clashes between rioters and police, which forced many retailers to board up their stores.

See RFI's slideshow on last week's Yellow Vest protests

Further demonstrations are also planned in Lyon, Toulouse, Orleans and Brittany.

On Friday evening, the French Senate approved a raft of measures to help the working poor and pensioners, just hours after they had been adopted by the lower house of parliament. The measures should come into force early in 2019.

Earlier Friday Prime Minister Edouard Philippe visited the Haute-Vienne region of central France to discuss grievances of disgruntled rural-dwellers with local mayors.

Philippe was greeted by demonstrators shouting "Macron resign," in a reference to President Emmanuel Macron.

Elsewhere, some "gilets jaunes" sought to keep pressure on the government to further boost spending power and give citizens more of a say in lawmaking by staging sporadic protests.

In Pfastatt, eastern France, 14 demonstrators trying to block access to a factory supplying parts to PSA Peugeot Citroen, Europe's second-biggest carmaker, were arrested by police.

In the southwestern city of Toulouse, some 30 protesters held a rally lampooning Macron on his 41st birthday.

"We haven't brought him any presents because he hasn't given us any," said one protester.

The number of protesters has however fallen significantly since last week, when Macron, a pro-business centrist, gave into some of their demands.

The interior ministry estimated the numbers taking part in various protests on Thursday at under 4,000, the lowest since demonstrations began on November 17, with 282,000 taking part on the first Saturday.

The number of traffic roundabouts occupied

by protesters in yellow high-visibility vests over the past five weeks has also markedly dropped.

Some 300 have been cleared by police since mid-December, with 200 still occupied, the interior ministry said Friday.

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