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France Rang In The New Year Under A Cloud Of Heavy Security

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

France rang in 2019 under a cloud of heavy security. In the wake of a recent terror attack and social unrest that spread out across the country, France's president, Emmanuel Macron, used his annual address to call for unity. Jake Cigainero has the report from Paris.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC, CHEERING)

JAKE CIGAINERO, BYLINE: The excitement of the hundreds of thousands of people on the Champs Elysees on New Year's Eve was a stark contrast to another crowd that has gathered here each week since November, the French yellow vests, a national movement that started as a protest against a fuel tax, but has morphed into a larger expression of middle- and working-class discontent. The French interior minister said more than 10,000 police and soldiers had been deployed in Paris for the celebration.

France has been on high terror alert since the shooting at the Christmas market in Strasbourg last month, and the yellow vests had also called for a peaceful gathering on the Champs Elysees. But their protests have frequently turned violent. However, there were no clashes with police or any major incidents on New Year's Eve.

Earlier in the evening, President Emmanuel Macron gave the presidential New Year's address in a televised speech. Standing in his office in the Elysee Palace, Macron said his three wishes for 2019 are truth, dignity and hope.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

PRESIDENT EMMANUEL MACRON: (Speaking French).

CIGAINERO: Macron says, "for me, the lesson of 2018 is we want to change things in order to live better, and we want to innovate in our plans for democracy, politics, economy and the environment. But," he said, "to do this, France cannot close itself off to the world."

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

MACRON: (Speaking French).

CIGAINERO: "It would be dangerous if our situation drives us to ignore the world around us. Quite the opposite," Macron says. He said the government will continue to roll out his ambitious reforms, including in education and taxes, some of which sparked the yellow vest movement more than a month ago.

After a particularly violent day of protests last month, Macron tried to calm tensions by canceling the fuel tax that caused the uproar in the first place. He also raised minimum wage. Following his concessions, there was a significant drop-off in yellow vest numbers, but protesters have continued to gather, although fewer and fewer each week.

Just a few weeks ago, more than 280,000 people had turned out across France, according to authorities. But over the weekend, only a few hundred yellow vests gathered in Paris. However, yellow vest organizers say they plan to return in full force in January. Post-holiday protest will be an indicator of how much steam the movement really has left. For NPR News, I'm Jake Cigainero in Paris.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.