Paris police make arrests ahead of 'yellow vest' protests

Police in Paris said they had arrested 278 people early on Saturday as the city prepared for a fresh wave of protests and possible violence.

Officials said a large number of the arrested individuals were suspected of joining a gathering to prepare for violence, destruction, or vandalism. Most were later released although some 30 were held for questioning, according to public broadcaster FranceInfo.

Demonstrators wearing the trademark fluorescent "yellow vests" had gathered before dawn on Saturday, near the Arc de Triomphe. The landmark itself was damaged last weekend when it became the epicenter of violent protests in which 100 people were injured.

Some 8,000 police were deployed in the capital ahead of the protests.

The Eiffel Tower and Louvre Museum were closed, along with hundreds of shops and businesses amid fears of possible looting.

Fear of extremist infiltration

Members of the movement have called for calm, with representatives having met French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe on Friday in an effort to ease tension.

Read more: France's Emmanuel Macron finds respite amid mass protests

But the French government has expressed fear that the protests over higher living costs could be hijacked by extremists from both the left and right of the political spectrum.

"According to the information we have, some radicalized and rebellious people will try to get mobilized tomorrow," Interior Minister Christophe Castaner told a press conference on Friday. "Some ultra-violent people want to take part."

Protesters broaden demands

President Emmanuel Macron earlier this week announced that the planned increased in petrol and diesel taxes — which acted as a catalyst for the unrest — would be canceled outright.

However, prominent protesters with wider demands — including broader tax cuts and salary raises — insisted they would descend on Paris anyway.

Read more: Macron scrapping fuel tax 'not enough,' says man behind Yellow Vests

The protests were expected to cross borders on Saturday, with demonstrations in neighboring Belgium and in the Netherlands. Neither country has proposed a fuel tax hike of its own.

Protests were expected outside European Union institutions in the Belgian capital. More than 70 people were detained in Brussels last week, when yellow vest protesters clashed with police.

In the Netherlands, demonstrations were planned in the cities of Amsterdam and Rotterdam.

rc/jlw (AFP, AP, dpa)

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