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Paris police ban protests near WW2 ceremonies

media Riot police stand guard during a demonstration by the Yellow Vests movement near the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, 12 January 2019. Reuters/Christian Hartmann

French President Emmanuel Macron is to commemorate the end of World War Two at the Arc de Triomphe and the Champs-Elysées in Paris on Wednesday, with police issuing strict orders about gatherings at the sites of sometimes violent Yellow Vest protests.

Like other years, France’s president plans to mark Victory in Europe Day, which comes on the anniversary of Nazi Germany’s surrender to the Allies on 8 May 1945, by laying wreaths at symbolic locations in Paris.

Over the past year, many of the traditional 8 May ceremonial sites have also been sites of occasionally violent Yellow Vest protests, which began in response to a proposed fuel tax in November 2018 before evolving into a broader anti-government social movement.

Macron plans to begin commemorations in mid-morning with the laying of a wreath at a statue of Charles de Gaulle on the Champs-Elysees avenue, along which protesters destroyed restaurants, boutiques and newspaper kiosks in March.

He will then proceed to commemorations at the nearby Arc de Triomphe monument, which has been newly restored after suffering damage during a Yellow Vest protest in December.

Paris police chief Didier Lallement decreed on Monday that no protests would be permitted in the vicinity of the monument and the avenue for the day, to prevent any disruption of the “solemn ceremonies” to take place there.

The decision was taken due to “the tense current social context, marked by recurring violent demonstrations during which security forces are systematically targeted by a radical splinter group of protesters”, read a police statement posted to Twitter.

Yellow Vest protests usually take place in Paris on Saturdays, but demonstrators made an exception for last week’s 1 May holiday.

One Yellow Vest group on Facebook has called another demonstration on the avenue for Wednesday.

Arc de Triomphe restored for VE Day

The Champs-Elysees, which stretches from the Arc de Triomphe to the Place de la Concorde near the Tuileries garden and Louvre museum, was the site of regular Saturday demonstrations when the Yellow Vest movement began in November.

These were sometimes violent, including on 1 December, when protesters targeted the Arc de Triomphe with graffiti, smashed sculptures, stole commemorative medals and snuffed out the flame that burns at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

The monument, built by Napoleon to commemorate his military victories, reopened less than two weeks after the December riots, with some areas remaining blocked off for restoration work.

Vandalism was largely absent from subsequent demonstrations until 16 March, when security forces failed to contain a riot that saw widespread damage along the avenue.

Lallement took over as Paris police chief two days later and has generally taken a harder line on protesters, forbidding any Yellow Vest demonstrations along the famous avenue outright.

France’s government has also announced a return to form, with Culture Minister Franck Riester saying last Friday that 1.2 million euros had been spent restoring the Arc de Triomphe in time for VE Day.

“The restoration has been done in only a few months, which is very fast,” Riester said as he praised the work.

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