PARIS: Paris’s Eiffel Tower will close on Saturday over fears of fresh violence during nationwide protests against President Emmanuel Macron, as police urged shops and restaurants on the Champs-Elysees to shut their doors too.
Around a dozen museums across the capital have also said they will remain closed on Saturday after vandalism and clashes between protesters and police last week rocked France.
The announcements came as around 200 high schools across the country remained blocked or disrupted by students protesting a raft of education overhauls, on a fourth day of action called to coincide with the anti-government demonstrations.
An interior ministry official told AFP earlier that authorities were bracing for “significant violence” on Saturday, based on indications that protesters on both the far right and far left are planning to converge on the capital.
Prime Minister Edouard Philippe told senators Thursday that “exceptional measures” would be taken to avoid the daylong street battles seen last weekend, with 65,000 police deployed across the country.
Shops along the Champs-Elysees as well as popular shopping streets near the iconic avenue were told to keep their doors closed, protect exposed windows and remove any outdoor furniture including tables and chairs, according to the police notices seen by AFP.
The move is likely to cost businesses thousands of euros in lost revenue as tourists and locals alike stay clear during a second holiday weekend in a row.
The Eiffel Tower said it would stay shut Saturday, and both the Garnier and Bastille opera houses have cancelled performances scheduled for Saturday.
Shops are also expected to close in other cities, with officials in Bordeaux, southwest France, already warning that museums, libraries and theatres will remain shut.
A Paris Saint-Germain football game against Montpellier scheduled for Saturday has also been postponed after a request by Paris police, and some schools near the Champs-Elysees have called off Saturday classes.
Two of Paris’s main attractions, the Louvre and Orsay museums, are still weighing whether or not to close.
The “yellow vest” protests began on November 17 in opposition to rising fuel taxes, but they have since ballooned into a broad challenge to Macron’s pro-business agenda and style of governing.
The government announced Wednesday it would cancel planned increases in fuel tax due to take effect in January in a bid to appease the mostly low-income protesters from small-town and rural France.
But the concession failed to quell the anger behind a movement which has retained broad public support, with an opinion poll this week showing 72 percent backed the protests despite last weekend’s violence.
The “yellow vests” have also spurred other protests, in particular students demanding an end to testing overhauls and stricter university entrance requirements.
Dozens of people wearing face masks threw Molotov cocktails, torched rubbish bins and clashed with police outside schools in several cities Thursday ahead of a call for nationwide demonstrations on Friday.
“We’re the ones who are going to eventually have to pay higher fuel prices,” said Ines, one of around 150 high school students demonstrating in the southern Paris suburb of Cachan.
Farmers have also called for demonstrations every day next week, while two truck driver unions plan an indefinite sympathy strike from Sunday night.
Meanwhile yellow-vest blockades at fuel depots have caused shortages in Brittany, Normandy, and southeast regions of France.
Political leaders from across the spectrum have appealed for calm, after four people died in accidents during protests and hundreds have been injured.
On Thursday a yellow-vest representative, Benjamin Cauchy, called on Macron to meet a delegation of protesters Friday to help defuse a situation that he said had brought the country “to the brink of insurrection and civil war.”
“We’re asking him to meet us to negotiate on spending power, which is what underpins all this anger,” Cauchy told the Media.
Macron, whose approval ratings are down to just 23 percent, has not commented publicly since Saturday on the deepest crisis of his presidency so far.
But members of his government have signalled they are ready to make further concessions to avoid new violence after the U-turn on fuel tax increases.
But Macron’s office said he told ministers he would stick to his decision to cut a “fortune tax” on high-earners, which the former investment banker abolished last year.
Restoring the wealth tax has become one of the core demands of the “yellow vests,” alongside the fuel tax rollback and an increase in the minimum wage.
Tokyo stocks gain on bargain-hunting
TOKYO: Tokyo stocks gained slightly on Monday as investors bought on dips following a sharp decline late last week, while their focus shifted ahead of a US Federal Reserve meeting.
The benchmark Nikkei 225 index, which dropped more than two percent on Friday, rose 0.62 percent or 132.05 points to close at 21,506.88, while the broader Topix index was up 0.13 percent or 2.04 points at 1,594.20. “Buy-back was seen among shares in major companies following a sharp decline on Friday,” Daiwa Securities senior technical analyst Hikaru Sato told AFP. “But the buy-back was not strong enough to boost shares further,” Sato said, adding that it may take more time to improve market sentiment.
Takashi Hiroki, the chief strategist at Monex, said the two-day US Fed meeting that ends on Wednesday is “the most important event this week” and investors are watching for the pace of rate hikes in 2019. “Falls in US shares (last week) is said to be caused by weak economic data in China and Europe, but these are not new factors,” he said in a commentary, adding that current market sentiment is vulnerable to “even the slightest worries given the prevailing uncertainty”.
In Tokyo, SoftBank’s initial public offering on Wednesday will also likely have an impact on the market, analysts said. The dollar fetched 113.51 yen in Asian afternoon trade against 113.29 yen in New York late Friday. Banks were higher, with Mitsubishi UFJ trading up 0.13 percent to 583.9 yen, Sumitomo Mitsui Financial up 0.56 percent at 3,939 yen and Mizuho Financial up 0.22 percent at 179.7 yen. Nissan was down 0.27 percent at 929.9 yen ahead of its board meeting to discuss corporate governance and choosing a replacement for former chairman Carlos Ghosn, after his arrest and dismissal. Rival Toyota was up 0.16 percent at 6,840 yen but Honda was down 0.13 percent at 3,050 yen.
‘Digitization provides ecosystem for fin. inclusion’
LAHORE: Governor State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) Tariq Bajwa has said that digitization provides an ecosystem for financial inclusion which plays a vital role in economic growth.
Talking to media at a MoU (Memorandum of Understanding) signing ceremony among Punjab Government, SBP and One-Link here at Punjab Revenue Authority (PRA) office, he appreciated the PRA for the initiative which would empower the commoner and taxpayers.
He also pointed out three priority areas of the economy including agriculture, provision of low-cost housing and SME, besides two cross-cutting areas Islamic Banking and financial inclusion through digitization of payment system.
To a question about declining revenue of provincial revenue authorities, Tariq Bajwa said Supreme Court of Pakistan barred the government from collecting taxes from mobile users which affected it.
He pointed out that it would be resolved soon with some alternate solution.
On this occasion, Punjab Finance Minister Makhdoom Hashim Jawan Bakht said since coming to power, Punjab government had been striving to improve the business environment and provide maximum facilitation to the business sector which was the backbone of the economy. With the introduction of this facility, taxpayers would no longer need to visit banks and stand in queues to deposit their taxes, thus the compliance cost of the taxpayers would be reduced, he added.
The finance minister said the government intended to make the facility available for all provincial taxes. However, the Punjab Revenue Authority had taken the lead in this regard and payment of Sales Tax on Services through alternate delivery channels would be available by the end of December. Subsequently, the facility would be incrementally expanded to cover taxes collected by the Excise and Taxation Department and the Board of Revenue.
He appreciated the PRA for implementing the Punjab government’s vision by making of e-PRA and smart revenue organizations reliant on information technology, where the direct contact between taxpayer and tax collector was minimized. Future projects in the pipeline included pre-populated returns and algorithmic mass audits, he mentioned.
Punjab Chief Secretary Yousef Naseem Khokhar stressed the need for ease of doing business and committed that the provincial government would continue to work towards this direction.
Rupee to stabilize: SBP governor
ISLAMABAD: State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) Governor Tariq Bajwa Sunday expressed the hope that the slide in rupee value would be stemmed once money flows into the economy.
Bajwa said the dollar rate is dependent on two factors: macroeconomic fundamentals and market sentiments. According to a private news channel, he said “As money [flows into] the economy [through cash injected], Insha’Allah you will see, the market sentiment will improve… the pressure will dissipate from the rupee.” The central bank governor said the Supreme Court’s decision to end the mobile phone tax affected the country’s tax net.
Bajwa added that Finance Minister Asad Umar knew about the spike in the dollar and had already clarified in a statement earlier that the rupee devaluation had been discussed with him. On 30th November, the rupee hit an all-time record low of Rs144 against the US dollar, plunging almost five percent after what appeared to be a sixth devaluation by the State Bank in the past year as the country struggles with an acute balance of payment crisis.
The surge in dollar came owing to the widening current account deficit and the International Monetary Fund’s suggestion to the government to realign the rupee with market fundamentals to access funds. The rupee has depreciated by 36 percent against the dollar over the past 12 months. It has fallen by Rs19.5 against the dollar since the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf took the reins of the country following the general election in July this year.