“Yellow vests” determined to force the government into making more of an effort to help France’s struggling middle class and working poor have vowed to continue protesting. After a radicalised Islamist went on a shooting and stabbing spree near a Christmas market in central Strasbourg on Tuesday night, killing three people and critically wounding several more, Mr Castaner said the anti-government protest movement should stop, urging people to not take to the streets on Saturday. Mr Castaner said: “Our police forces never give up. But honestly, I’d rather see them do their real job – which is to track down criminals and reduce the terrorist threat –, rather than send them to secure roundabouts where just a few thousand protesters are mobilising a huge proportion of the police force.
“There will be, it seems, an ‘Act 5’ – a fifth weekend of ‘yellow vest’ protests – tomorrow in Paris. I, for my part, would prefer an act of responsibility on the part of protesters.”
He continued, adding that police, shop owners and the economy would suffer the most from a fifth Saturday of unrest.
Government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux on Thursday also called on the anti-government protesters to be “reasonable” in the wake of the Strasbourg attack.
But “yellow vests” – so called because of the high-visibility jackets all French motorists are required to keep in their cars – have vowed to continue their grassroots protest campaign.
The protest movement started last month as an impromptu rebellion against high fuel prices, but has morphed into an explosive rebuff of President Emmanuel Macron’s arrogant governing style and economic policies, which are widely seen as favouring the rich over the poor.
Maxime Nicolle, one of the movement’s most prominent figures, said: “’Yellow vests’ will take to the streets nationwide on Saturday.”
“Yellow vests,” who have criticised the Macron government’s response to the crisis as “insufficient,” are calling for more tax cuts “because the French are exhausted and under enormous fiscal pressure”.
Mr Macron on Monday announced wage rises for the poorest workers and tax cuts for struggling pensioners in further concessions (he cancelled planned fuel tax hikes last week) in an effort to defuse weeks of sometimes violent protests that have undermined his authority.
But Tuesday’s attack has sparked fears France’s police force is being spread too thin, and struggling to prevent terrorists attacks and keep the “yellow vest” protests under control.
The protests have triggered the country’s worst urban riots in decades and led to six deaths and more than 4,000 arrests.
The Strasbourg attacker, 29-year-old Chérif Chekatt, was shot dead on Thursday night in a brief stand-off with police after being on the run for 48 hours. He was killed about 2 kilometres from where he launched his attack.
Mr Chekatt had spent time in French, German and Swiss prisons for theft and violence and was known to have become radicalised behind bars. He had been on the French government’s “Fiche S” terrorist watchlist since 2016.
Islamic State (ISIS) claimed responsibility for the attack on Thursday, referring to Mr Chekatt as one of its soldiers who “carried out the operation in response to calls for targeting citizens of coalition countries” fighting the terrorist group in Iraq and Syria, according to a statement on its Amaq news agency.
ISIS, however, provided no evidence for the claim, prompting Mr Castaner to denounce the statement as an “opportunistic” attempt to bolster its credentials.