A police officer guards street during a protest in Nice, southeastern France, Saturday, March 23, 2019. The French government vowed to strengthen security as yellow vest protesters stage a 19th round of demonstrations, following last week's riots in Paris. (AP Photo/Claude Paris)

French yellow vests protest amid enhanced security

March 23, 2019 - 8:17 am

PARIS (AP) — Yellow vest demonstrators gathered in Paris and other French cities for a 19th round of demonstrations as authorities issued bans on protests in certain areas and enhanced security measures in an effort to avoid a repeat of last week's riots in the capital.

Authorities banned protests Saturday from the Champs-Elysees avenue in Paris and central neighborhoods of several cities including Bordeaux, Toulouse, Marseille and Nice in the south, and Rouen in western France.

At noon (1100 GMT), hundreds of protesters gathered on the Denfert-Rochereau plaza, in southern Paris, from where they were planning to march toward tourist hotspot Montmartre in the north. Dozens of others were peacefully standing on Trocadero plaza, next to the Eiffel Tower.

Meanwhile, the Champs-Elysees was almost empty except for a huge police presence.

Paris police said 31 people have been arrested and 15 protesters were fined for being in the banned area, out of 2,322 controls in the streets of the capital.

In Nice, police dispersed a few hundred protesters who gathered on a central plaza. The city was placed under high security measures as Chinese President Xi Jinping was expected to stay overnight on Sunday as part of a state visit to France.

The new Paris police chief, Didier Lallement, who took charge following last week's protests, said specific police units have been created to react faster to any violence.

About 6,000 police officers are deployed in the capital and two drones are helping to monitor the demonstrations.

Authorities also deployed soldiers to protect sensitive sites and allow police forces to focus on maintaining order during the protests.

President Emmanuel Macron on Friday dismissed criticism from opposition leaders regarding the involvement of the military.

"Those trying to scare people, or to scare themselves, are wrong," he said in Brussels.

Christelle Camus, a yellow vest from a southern suburb of Paris who came to the Trocadero gathering, said the use of soldiers to help ensure security is "a great nonsense."

"Since when do soldiers face a population? We are here in France. You would say that we are here in (North) Korea or in China. I never saw something like this," she said.

The French government announced new security measures this week and replaced the Paris police chief with Lallement following riots on the Champs-Elysees that left luxury stores ransacked and charred from arson fires.

Last week's surge in violence came as the 4-month-old anti-government movement has been dwindling.

The protests started in November to oppose fuel tax hikes but have expanded into a broader rejection of Macron's economic policies, which protesters say favor businesses and the wealthy over ordinary French workers.

The yellow vest movement was named after the fluorescent garments that French motorists must carry in their vehicles for emergencies.

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Milos Krivokapic contributed to this report.

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