On Paris' Champs Elysees, shattered glass and smoking ruins
* Saturday was 18th successive day of "Yellow Vest" protests
* Hard core of demonstrators went on violent rampage
* Windows smashed, shops looted, restaurants set alight
* Retailers want action to stem repeated destruction
By Luke Baker
PARIS, March 18 (Reuters) - It is meant to be one of the
world's most elegant streets: more than a kilometre of
boutiques, restaurants, sidewalk cafes and fashion outlets vying
for tourists' attention. But on Monday, the Champs Elysees
looked more like a construction site.
On their 18th Saturday of protests against President
Emmanuel Macron and his policies, France's Gilets Jaunes
('yellow vest') movement targeted the tree-lined avenue that
runs from the Arc de Triomphe, smashing banks, ransacking
restaurants, burning newspaper kiosks and looting luxury stores.
From GAP to leather goods maker Longchamp, from Levis to
high-end bakery Laduree, a hard core of violent protesters threw
cobble stones through pane-glass windows, scrawled graffiti on
walls, set fire to half a dozen newspaper stands and torched
famed restaurant Le Fouquet's in an orgy of destruction.
Whether the Disney store or Samsung, Tissot, Zara or Dior,
few major retailers were left untouched by the rampage, which
also took in a cinema, Hugo Boss, a Renault branded cafe, an
Iran Air office and banks from Societe Generale to HSBC.
Among those that did emerge unscathed, perhaps thanks to
heavy boarding-up after previous bouts of vandalism, were
Apple's flagship store, Tiffany & Co. and Louis Vuitton.
Carpenters were cutting wood to board up shattered windows
on Monday morning, and glass panes were being replaced in some
bus-stops and storefronts, but stretches of the wide avenue
remained a mess, with the smell of charred paper and metal
hanging over the incinerated carcasses of newspaper kiosks.
"It's a bit of a mess," said Michael Bilaniuk, a tourist
from Ontario, Canada who said he had come straight to the Champs
Elysees to check out the scene after arriving in France, aware
that the Gilets Jaunes had been on the rampage.
"It's almost part of the tourist attraction -- we've heard
and seen so much about the protests, you kind of want to come
and see for yourself what's happened. It's interesting."
Nearby, protesters' slogans were written across a storefront
and the elegant entranceway to a gallery of shops.
"They have millions, we are the millions" read one. Another
threatened: "We are a legion, you are pawns, be careful."
"PROTEST TOO FAR"
Since the 'yellow vest' movement began in November,
originally as a protest against fuel taxes before morphing into
a general denunciation of Macron's politics, the government has
struggled to neutralise the threat.
While there has been a protest every Saturday in Paris and
other cities since November, not all of them have been as
violent and destructive as Saturday's, which has made it hard
for businesses to predict how to prepare.
While some retailers began boarding up their shops after
rioting in early December, in recent weeks the numbers joining
the protests declined sharply and many storeowners may have
thought it was safe to operate normally again.
France's overall retail sales were affected at the end of
2018 because of nationwide disruption in the run-up to
Christmas, and after Saturday's vandalism, Paris' Chamber of
Commerce called for action from the government.
"Employers and their staff have been traumatised by the
intensity and repetition of the violence," the chamber said in a
statement on Monday, pointing out that more than 90 businesses
had been affected.
"Last Saturday's demonstrations have taken things too far,"
it said, demanding that the government take "firm measures that
will allow retailers to go about their business normally".
(Writing by Luke Baker, Editing by William Maclean)
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