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Several marches, heavy security expected on May Day in Paris

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Thousands of French police are expected to be deployed to ensure security at annual May Day demonstrations in Paris. Reuters/Yves Herman

Yellow Vest protesters, trade unions, government critics and climate activists are expected to join the main march for International Workers’ Day, or May Day, in Paris on Wednesday. Police have ordered businesses along the route to close over concerns of rioting.


May Day marches in Paris generally show how united or divided the country’s trade unions are from one year to the next and allow them to voice concerns over government proposals.

This year’s main events, however, will be marked by the ongoing Yellow Vest movement and by a march for the climate, partly inspired by organisers’ views that President Emmanuel Macron offered little for the environment in a series of announcements aimed at diffusing social unrest last week.

Many Yellow Vests plan to join the climate march, which will itself join the main march organised by the CGT, FO, FSU and Solidaires trade unions in the afternoon.

Anti-government protesters are also participating to mark one year since former presidential security advisor Alexandre Benalla was filmed roughing up protesters while illegally wearing police equipment, which evolved into a scandal over how Macron’s administration handled the incident.

Concerns over rioting

Public officials on the one hand, and some more radical Yellow Vest and black bloc protesters on the other, are respectively warning about and promising more violent demonstrations.

In publications that come and go from Facebook, more radical Yellow Vests, along with black blocs, are vowing to turn Paris into a “riot capital”.

Macron’s administration has warned it will not tolerate rioting or violence targeting security forces.

“The president was very firm that people must be able to demonstrate on this day dedicated to workers… just as it was necessary to be extremely firm with those whose only objective is disorder and violence,” said government spokesperson Sibeth Ndiaye on Tuesday.

French media have reported some 3,000 riot police and gendarmes are to be dispatched in Paris, with an equal number sent throughout the country.

Paris police chief Didier Lallement issued an order on Monday for the closure of shops, restaurants and other businesses along the route of the march.

Some Yellow Vests have announced they will try to reach the emblematic Champs-Elysees Avenue, where demonstrations are now banned after being the sites of riots on several occasions.

Paris’s public transit service is closing 19 metro stations in the vicinity of the avenue for the day, and another eight along the route of the main march.

Far right, anti-EU and other events in Paris

In other 1 May events, far-right figurehead Jean-Marie Le Pen, who founded the National Front party in 1972, is planning an annual gathering to celebrate French national heroine Joan of Arc in late morning.

His daughter, Marine Le Pen, who took over leadership of the party, excluded him from it and renamed it the National Rally, plans a European election campaign event in the city of Metz in eastern France.

Back in Paris, anti-racist groups will hold an annual late-morning vigil in the memory of Brahim Bouarram, a Moroccan man killed by far-right activists who had attended the National Front 1 May event in 1995.

In early afternoon, a political party dedicated to taking France out of the European Union holds its second annual May Day march.

The UPR and its leader François Asselineau, who was a candidate in the first round of the 2017 presidential election, have become more visible in recent years, with posters popping up around the capital bearing the word Frexit (meaning French exit from the EU).