Paris, Dec 7 (AP/UNB) — Authorities across France braced Thursday for the possibility of more riots and violence at anti-government protests this weekend, holding emergency meetings and deploying tens of thousands of police and security forces. Museums, theaters and shops in Paris announced they would close Saturday as a precaution — including the city's famed Eiffel Tower.
Police unions and city authorities met to strategize on how to handle the weekend protests, which are coming even though President Emmanuel Macron surrendered Wednesday night and cancelled a fuel tax hike that had unleashed weeks of unrest.
On the other side of France's volatile social debate, disparate groups of protesters did the same thing, sharing their weekend plans on social networks and chat groups.
Prime Minister Edouard Philippe told senators Thursday that the government will deploy "exceptional" security measures for the protests in Paris and elsewhere, with additional new forces on top of the 65,000 security officers already in place.
Some "yellow vest" protesters, French union officials and prominent politicians across the political spectrum called for calm Thursday after the worst rioting in Paris in decades last weekend.
Macron agreed to abandon the fuel tax hike, part of his plans to combat global warming, but protesters' demands have now expanded to other issues hurting French workers, retirees and students. And in a move questioned by both critics and supporters, the president himself has disappeared from public view.
The prime minister reiterated the government's plan to scrap a fuel tax rise planned by the previous government because of the "extreme tensions" France is facing.
"No tax deserves to put civil peace in danger," Philippe said.
The rioting in Paris has worried tourists, prompted the cancellation of four French league soccer matches this weekend around the country and damaged the local economy at the height of the holiday shopping season. Rampaging groups last weekend threw cobblestones through Paris storefronts and looted valuables in some of the city's richest neighborhoods.
The Eiffel Tower, along with more than a dozen museums, two theaters and other cultural sites in Paris, will be closed Saturday for security reasons. The Paris Opera has cancelled planned performances Saturday on its two Parisian sites.
Two music festivals in Paris have been postponed and the Arc de Triomphe remains closed since it was damaged in last weekend's protest, which left over 130 people injured.
Paris police have also urged shops in the city's high-end Champs-Elysees area to close Saturday as a precaution.
Protests simmered Thursday in several French regions.
Scores of protesting teens clashed with police at a high school west of Paris, as part of nationwide student protests over new university admissions procedures and rising administrative fees. Drivers wearing their signature yellow safety vests continued to block roads around France, expanding their demands to include broader tax cuts and wider social benefits.
A small union representing police administrators called for a strike Saturday, which could further complicate security measures. Two police union officials told The Associated Press they are worried that radical troublemakers from both the far right and far left will hijack Saturday's protests.
Meanwhile, videos on social media of police beating protesters at a Burger King near the Champs-Elysees have stoked the protesters' anger. A police spokeswoman said Thursday that an investigation is underway into that incident and police are examining other videos circulating online for possible violations.
Macron, the central target of the protests, has been largely invisible all week. After winning election overwhelmingly last year, the 40-year-old pro-business centrist has sought to make France more competitive globally. But his efforts have alienated even some supporters with badly explained reforms like tax cuts for the rich to spur investment in France. Many protesters feel Macron has an elitist, out-of-touch attitude that ignores the country's high taxes and high unemployment.
They felt the increased fuel tax in particular favored wealthy city folk who use public transportation over poorer rural residents who must drive to work or school or shops.
Macron doesn't face re-election until 2022 and his party has a strong majority in parliament, but his political opponents are increasingly vocal and plan a no-confidence vote in the government next week.
Clement Rozey, manager of a motorcycle shop in western Paris, spent two days and nights cleaning up after watching helplessly last weekend as thugs smashed his shop windows and emptied his shelves. He has boarded up the store and is among those staying closed on Saturday.
"We're going to have a security company with security guards inside and outside the shop," Rozey told the AP. "Everything has been fenced off, several times."
Yet he remains sympathetic to the protest movement.
"Just like everybody, we're strangled (financially) after the 15th of the month," he said, referring to the day when many French workers are paid. The protesters "are defending a cause, they're following through and rightly so. We support them whole-heartedly."
But violent troublemakers who pillage and riot?
"That's something else," Rozey said.
Moscow, Dec 6 (Xinhua/UNB) -- Russia's new Peresvet laser weapon systems have been put on combat duty, the Defense Ministry's Krasnaya Zvezda newspaper reported Wednesday.
The Peresvet laser complex entered into combat service on Saturday, said the report. And the ministry also released a video on social media of the weapon complex being deployed.
Russian military personnel operating those systems underwent special training at the Mozhaysky Military Space Academy in St. Petersburg, it added.
The systems are capable of "concealing the areas of deployment of intercontinental ballistic missiles" and will be used in air defense and military defense, a military expert was cited by the newspaper as saying.
During his annual address on March, Russian President Vladimir Putin first announced the development of the systems, saying that "significant progress" was achieved in Russia's laser weaponry program and "there are all reasons to believe that we are one step ahead our rivals in this sphere."
London, Dec 5 (AP/UNB) — Britain's Brexit debate has become a bruising battle between lawmakers and Prime Minister Theresa May's government.
May is trying to keep her EU divorce deal on track Wednesday after her government was dealt a double blow by Parliament.
Legislators found the government in contempt of Parliament for refusing to publish legal advice about the agreement, a symbolic defeat that means the advice will now be released.
Parliament also forced an amendment to Brexit plans giving lawmakers more say over what happens next if the deal agreed between the government and the EU is defeated.
Wednesday is the second of five days of debate before Parliament votes on the deal Tuesday. Strong opposition from all sides suggests the government is headed for defeat — with unknown consequences.
Wellington, Dec 5 (AP/UNB) — A powerful magnitude 7.5 earthquake has struck in the southern Pacific Ocean near New Caledonia, prompting authorities to warn of a tsunami threat to nearby islands.
According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the quake struck about 168 kilometers (104 miles) east of Tadine in New Caledonia at a shallow depth of 10 kilometers (6 miles). Earthquakes are generally more destructive when the epicenter is near the surface.
The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center says there's a tsunami threat for parts of the Pacific located close to the quake but there is no threat to Hawaii.
New Caledonia sits on the Pacific "Ring of Fire," the arc of seismic faults around the Pacific Ocean where most of the world's earthquakes and volcanic activity occur.
Paris, Dec 4 (AP/UNB) — The French government's decision to suspend fuel tax and utility hikes Tuesday did little to appease protesters, who called it a "first step" and vowed to fight on after large-scale rioting in Paris last weekend.
In a major U-turn for the government, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe announced in a live televised address that the planned increases, which were set to be introduced in January, were now being postponed until the summer.
The backpedaling appeared to be designed to calm the nation, coming three days after the worst unrest on the streets of Paris in decades.
"No tax is worth putting the nation's unity in danger," said Philippe, just three weeks after insisting that the government wouldn't change course and remained determined to help wean French consumers off polluting fossils fuels.
Protesters wearing their signature fluorescent yellow vests kept blocking several fuel depots Tuesday and many insisted their fight wasn't over.
"It's a first step, but we will not settle for a crumb," Benjamin Cauchy, a protest leader.
More than 100 people were injured in the French capital and 412 arrested over the weekend in Paris, with dozens of cars torched. Shops were looted and cars torched in plush neighborhoods around the famed Champs-Elysees Avenue.
The Arc de Triomphe, which is home to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and was visited by world leaders last month to mark the centenary of the end of World War I, was sprayed with graffiti and vandalized inside.
"This violence must end," Philippe said.
Philippe also announced that electricity and natural gas prices will be frozen until May 2019 in a move aimed at improving spending power.
Philippe's announcement is unlikely to put an end to the road blockades and demonstrations, though, with more possible protests this weekend in Paris.
A soccer game between Paris Saint-Germain and Montpellier which was scheduled for Saturday in Paris was postponed after police said they couldn't guarantee security amid expected protests in the capital.
"If another day of protests takes place on Saturday, it should be authorized and should take place in calm," Philippe said. "The interior minister will use all means to ensure order is respected."
Prominent Socialist figure Segolene Royal, a former candidate for president, lauded Philippe's decision but said it came too late.
"This decision should have been taken from the start, as soon as the conflict emerged," she said. "We felt it was going to be very, very hard because we saw the rage, the exasperation, especially from retirees. They should have withdrawn (the tax hikes) right away. The more you let a conflict fester, the more you eventually have to concede."
Far-right leader Marine Le Pen lashed out at the decision as too little, tweeting that it was "obviously not up to the expectations of the French people struggling with precariousness."
After a third consecutive weekend of clashes in Paris led by protesters wearing distinctive yellow traffic vests, Philippe held crisis talks with representatives of major political parties on Monday. He also met with Macron and other ministers in order to find a quick solution to the crisis.
Facing the most serious street protests since his election in May 2017, Macron has canceled a two-day trip to Serbia to stay in France this week.
The protests began last month with motorists upset over the fuel tax hike but have grown to encompass a range of complaints, with protesters claiming that Macron's government doesn't care about the problems of ordinary people.
Since the movement kicked off on Nov. 17, four people have been killed and hundreds injured in clashes or accidents stemming from the protests.