Paris police ready themselves for violent leftist protesters.
On a seemingly carefree Saturday afternoon in Paris, one could be forgiven for almost forgetting tomorrow’s highly contested presidential election. Not for long, however, as the sound of an approaching riot disturbs the calm and the familiar whiff of tear gas fills the Parisian air. Cafe terraces empty as leftist protesters approach, clashing with police at the Place de la Bastille.
The 2,000 strong march, organized by various unions, student groups, and a collection of left-leaning organizations, degenerated into violence around 5pm, with projectiles, glass bottles and smoke bombs thrown at a significant and heavily armed police presence.
Dramatic scenes ensued as Saturday afternoon shoppers and passers-by ran to avoid the plumes of tear gas whilst protestors attacked ATMs and left graffiti calling for a general strike and populist uprising no matter who wins tomorrow’s first round vote in the presidential election.
Certain organizers of Saturday’s march are calling for a follow-up event Sunday evening to coincide with the announcement of the results of the election.
Entitled, ‘Night of the Barricades’, a nod to the student protests of May 1968, the event calls on participants to arrive at the Place de la Bastille with materials in hand to construct barricades in what promises to be a long night for police. Flyers and promotional videos show scenes of insurrection and clashes with law enforcement.
Place de la Bastille has long been a lightning rod for leftist protest given its history and prominence in previous revolutionary movements. Once a symbol of royal excess, the historic fortress was besieged by the citizenry at the opening of the French Revolution. For a brief period during the ensuing blood-letting of ‘The Terror’, a guillotine stood on the site. Holding an important place in social movements and revolts through-out the nineteenth century, the area is often the start or end point of left-leaning protests in Paris.
With only hours to go until polls open, police are on high alert in the capital and across France. The first and most serious threat according to police sources is that of Islamic terrorism, no surprise given the events of recent days; the shooting dead of a police officer on the Champs-Élysées and the foiling of an alleged assassination plot to kill one or more presidential candidates in Marseille.
The second threat is from leftist and anarchist groups, increasingly active and violent in recent years following several high-profile protest movements.
Security forces believe a Le Pen victory tomorrow, or particularly the announcement of a nationalist – communist run-off in the second round, i.e. Marine Le Pen versus Jean-Luc Mélenchon, could lead to significant unrest emanating from the far left.
Tonight, Paris can sleep soundly. Tomorrow may be a different story.
Photo Credit: Christophe Archambault / AFP