France riots ‘whipped up by Russian Twitter trolls sharing fake news to inflame tensions between cops and yellow vest protesters’

France riots ‘whipped up by Russian Twitter trolls sharing fake news to inflame tensions between cops and yellow vest protesters’

About 600 Twitter accounts which champion pro-Kremlin views have turned their attention to France’s current struggles, according to the Alliance for Securing Democracy.

In a radio interview with RTL yesterday, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said that French security services are probing possible Russian interference.

Le Drian told the station: “An investigation is now underway. I will not make comments before the investigation has brought conclusions.”

The concerned minister also said: “I know how fragile democracy is.”

Bloomberg reports that while attempts to use fake news reports and cyberattacks to undermine the 2017 campaign of French President Emmanuel Macron failed, Russian-linked sites have promoted murky reports of police mutiny and cops’ backing for protest action.

Bret Shafer, the alliance’s Washington-based social media analyst said French protests have recently featured “at or near the top” of Twitter accounts known to promote Kremlin views.

He said: “That’s a pretty strong indication that there is interest in amplifying the conflict.”

The alliance, a unit of the German Marshall Fund of the United States, publicly documents and exposes efforts by Vladimir Putin and “other authoritarian regimes to subvert democracy in the US, in Europe and globally”.

The Moscow Times said that Macron complained during his campaign last year that Kremlin-controlled media outlets were spreading fake news about him as he took a tough stance on Russia than his closest political rivals.

But that accusation was denied by the Kremlin, which said it did not take part in fake news or cyber-attacks on Macron, slamming such accusations as “slander”.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian has also said that Donald Trump should not comment on France's domestic affairs, notably nationwide protests that began over fuel tax hikes meant to wean the nation off fossil fuels.

President Emmanuel Macron withdrew the planned increase last week in a failed bid to appease sometimes violent protesters.

Trump has tweeted twice on the issue, saying in one tweet last weekend that, "the Paris agreement isn't working out so well for Paris."

It was a reference to the 2015 Paris climate accord, which the US is leaving and which Macron has championed worldwide.

Le Drian said on LCI TV on Sunday: "We don't take part in American debates. Let us live our own national life."

He says Macron has told Trump the same thing.

Macron will address the nation this evening, breaking a long silence over rising protests that are shaking France.

An official said the president will address the nation in a speech from the Elysee Palace. The official wasn't authorised to speak publicly and asked to remain anonymous.

Cities including Paris and Bordeaux exploded into violence on Saturday, during the fourth weekend of demonstrations in a row by Yellow Vest protesters.

Paris' chief prosecutor says that nearly 1,000 people, nearly 100 of them minors and most without police records, are being held in custody after weekend protests in the French capital that turned violent.

Remy Heitz also said at a news conference yesterday that the prosecutor's office was seeking preliminary charges against who they believe is the main person responsible for graffiti scrawled on the Arc de Triomphe last weekend.

Thirteen others were already handed preliminary charges over vandalism of the monument.

Most of those in custody were men under 40 from various regions who came to Paris for the fourth Saturday of protests by a ballooning grassroots movement angry about a fuel tax hike and other issues.

Paris monuments have since reopened, as cleanup workers cleared debris and shop owners tried to put the city on its feet again Sunday, a day after running battles between yellow-vested protesters and riot police left 71 injured and caused widespread damage to the French capital.

Armoured cars, water canon and thousands of rounds of tear gas were used against the Yellow Vest fuel price rise opponents, who are named after the high visibility jackets all motorists carry in France.

The economy minister, meanwhile, has lamented the damage to the economy.

"This is a catastrophe for commerce, it's a catastrophe for our economy," Bruno Le Maire said on Sunday while visiting merchants around the Saint Lazare train station, among areas hit by vandalism as the pre-Christmas shopping season got underway.

Thierry Paul Valette, who helps coordinate yellow vest protesters who come to Paris, said the president must announce concrete measures to quell the fury.

It won't be enough to announce negotiations, he said in an interview with The Associated Press. People want change and "concrete, immediate, right now" measures.

Even if Macron withdraws his signature slashing of the wealth tax, "half of the yellow vests will go home, the other half will want him to resign and will stay in the streets," Valette predicted. "Because the movement isn't controllable."

There was also damage in other cities, notably Marseille, Toulouse and Bordeaux.

Seventeen of the injured were police officers.

Jean-Claude Delage of the Alliance police union urged the government on Sunday to come up with responses to France's "social malaise."

He told BFM television that working class protesters were deliberately targeting high-end shops in Paris that were selling goods they couldn't afford.

Luxury shops on the posh Avenue Montaigne were totally boarded up on Saturday.

In a knock at Macron, graffiti on the wall of one read: "You don't cross the street, you take it," mocking the president's response to a young unemployed gardener that he can "cross the street" to find a job.

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