Anger as riot police force schoolchildren to kneel with hands behind heads amid Paris lockdown
Scenes of schoolchildren kneeling with their hands behind their heads has triggered outrage as France braces itself for more violent protests this weekend.
Footage, which has sparked condemnation by politicians, shows the pupils on the ground as riot police yell orders at them.
It is feared that the viral videos could further inflame the “yellow vest” protests, which have led to the worst rioting Paris has seen in decades.
With further “significant violence” expected on Saturday, Paris is going into effective lockdown, with the Eiffel Tower and scores of shops on the Champs-Elysees to close as a precaution, as well major museums including the Louvre.
The students were detained by police in the Paris suburb of Mantes-la-Jolie, in unrest that has spread to dozens of schools during three weeks of anti-government demonstrations.
A total of 146 people were arrested outside the town’s Saint-Exupery high school after protesters clashed with police and burned two cars.
Responding to the images, socialist leader Olivier Faure tweeted: “Whatever wrong was done, nothing justifies this filmed humiliation of minors.
“There is no need to pour even more oil on the flames.”
Laurent Saint-Martin, a senior member of the ruling Republic On The Move (LREM) party, said around 40 of the students were masked and intent on carrying out vandalism and arson.
But he too described the videos as “shocking”, telling Franceinfo radio: “It’s right to be angry, looking at these images.”
Defending the treatment of the children, Interior Minister Christophe Castaner aid: “Over the past few days, the students have been joined by about 100 hooded youths armed with clubs and incendiary devices and determined to pick a fight with police.”
He said roadblocks had been set alight, missiles hurled at motorists and houses robbed in the area.
“It is in this context that the security forces stepped in,” said Mr Castaner.
He said the protests had “created a monster” and vowed a zero-tolerance approach by police to violence.
Demonstrations at some 280 schools against stricter university entrance requirements have added to the feeling of discontent in France amid the continuing “yellow vest” protests.
Dozens of people wearing face masks threw Molotov cocktails, torched rubbish bins and clashed with police outside schools in several cities on Thursday.
The “yellow vest” protests, named after the safety jackets worn by demonstrators, began on 17 November in opposition to rising fuel taxes, but have since grown into a wider movement against Emmanuel Macron in the biggest challenge of his presidency so far.
The protesters are furious at rising costs of living blamed on high taxes, and accuse Mr Macron, a former investment banker, of favouring the rich with his policies.
They argue the president is out of touch with ordinary people and many are calling on him to resign.
Ahead of expected unrest tomorrow, a number of football games, including one involving Paris Saint-Germain, have been cancelled.
The closures are likely to cost businesses thousands of pounds in lost income as Christmas shoppers steer clear of the capital for a second weekend in a row.
Shops have lost around €1bn (£893m) in revenue since the start of the protests last month, according to the French retail federation (FCD), which includes large supermarket groups like Carrefour.
Farmers have called for demonstrations every day next week, while two lorry driver unions plan an indefinite sympathy strike from Sunday night.
Four people have died in accidents during the protests and political leaders have appealed for calm.
But many “yellow vests” have urged fresh protests this weekend, claiming a series of of government concessions do not go far enough.
The government this week scrapped planned fuel tax hikes planned for January – one of the protesters’ main demands – and announced a string of other measures designed to help low-income families.
The climbdown over the fuel tax – intended to help France move to a greener economy – marks a major shift for Mr Macron, who has previously vowed not to be swayed, like previous presidents, by large street protests.
Prominent “yellow vest” protester Benjamin Cauchy has called on Mr Macron to meet a delegation to defuse a situation that he said had brought France “to the brink of insurrection and civil war”.
“We’re asking him to meet us to negotiate on spending power, which is what underpins all this anger,” Mr Cauchy said.
Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said the government was ready to consider “any measure which would allow us to boost spending power”.
But Mr Macron’s office has said he will stick to his decision to cut a “fortune tax” on high-earners, abolished last year in a bid to boost investment.
That decision is deeply unpopular with protesters and together with a series of comments, viewed as insensitive to ordinary workers, has led critics to dub Mr Macron a “president of the rich”.