Violence in Paris on day of protests over Macron’s pension reform

French people are angry that the government is lifting the retirement age, and doing so without a parliamentary vote.

Protestors take part in a demonstration against pension reforms in Montpellier, southern France
Protesters take part in a demonstration against pension reforms in Montpellier, southern France [Jean Ffrancois Monier/AFP]

Police have fired tear gas and clashed with violent anarchists in Paris as hundreds of thousands of mainly peaceful protesters marched across France against President Emmanuel Macron’s pension reform.

Dozens of police were injured, and dozens of protesters arrested nationwide, the government said, as a day of protests descended into violence in several cities on Thursday.

In a ninth day of nationwide protests, train and air travel was disrupted while teachers were among many professions to walk off the job, just days after the government pushed through legislation to raise the retirement age by two years to 64.

Demonstrations in central Paris were generally peaceful, but smaller groups of “Black Bloc” anarchists smashed shop windows, demolished street furniture and ransacked a McDonalds restaurant. Clashes ensued as riot police moved in and drove back the anarchists with tear gas and stun grenades.

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said 123 police officers had been injured and 80 people arrested across the country.

Earlier, workers blocked access to a terminal at the Charles de Gaulle airport, forcing some travellers to get there on foot.

Train services were also disrupted and some schools shut while garbage piled up on the streets, and electricity output was cut, as unions pressured the government to withdraw the law that delays retirement by two years.

Plumes of smoke were seen rising from burning piles of debris blocking traffic on a highway near Toulouse, in southwestern France, and wildcat strikes briefly blocked roads in other cities as well.

Police also fired tear gas at some protesters in several other cities, including Nantes and Bordeaux in the west, and used water cannon against others in Rennes in the northwest.

Protestors hold a sign reading "We've got a job, it's not to die for" during a demonstration, a week after the government pushed a pensions reform through parliament without a vote, using the article 49.3 of the constitution, in Nantes, western France, on March 23, 2023.
Protesters hold a sign reading ‘We’ve got a job, it’s not to die for’ during a demonstration a week after the government pushed a pensions reform through parliament without a vote, using Article 49.3 of the French Constitution, in Nantes, western France [Loic Venance/AFP]

President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday said the legislation – which his government pushed through the French Parliament without a vote last week – would come into force by year-end despite escalating tensions.

Unions called for regional action over the weekend and new nationwide strikes and protests on March 28, the day Britain’s King Charles III is due to travel to Bordeaux from Paris by train.

“This is a response to the falsehoods expressed by the president and his incomprehensible stubbornness” Marylise Leon, deputy secretary general of the CFDT union, said.

“The responsibility of this explosive situation lies not with the unions but with the government.”

Paul Kantola, a 57-year-old carpenter, told the AFP news agency that he had to wake up at 5am to be able to get to work. However, he said he agreed with the protesters.

“It’s scary to grow old in these conditions. Already when you have a pension it’s not enough to live off,” said Kantola, who lives in the Parisian suburb of Nanterre.

The policy changes accelerate a planned increase in the number of years one must work to draw a full pension.

Protests against the measures have raged since January.

‘Increased anger’

Most demonstrations have been peaceful, but anger has mounted since the government’s move last week.

The past seven nights have seen spontaneous demonstrations in Paris and other cities, with rubbish bins set ablaze and protesters scuffling with police.

A protester, holding a placard which reads "No to 49.3", a special clause in the French Constitution, to push the pensions reform bill through the National Assembly without a vote by lawmakers, attends a demontration to block Nice international airport
A protester holds a placard that reads ‘No to 49.3’ – a special clause in the French Constitution used to push the pensions reform bill through the National Assembly without a vote by lawmakers [Eric Gaillard/Reuters]

The schism represents the most serious challenge to Macron since the “Yellow Vest” revolt four years ago.

Polls show a wide majority of French citizens oppose the pension legislation and the decision to push it through without a parliamentary vote.

Labour Minister Olivier Dussopt said the government was not in denial about the tensions, but wanted to move on.

“There is a disagreement that will persist on the retirement age. On the other hand, there are many subjects which make it possible to renew a dialogue,” he said, including how companies share their profits with workers.

“Things will be done gradually,” he said.

Macron, 45, is in his second and final term, and says he’s convinced that France’s retirement system needs reform to keep it financed.

Opponents proposed other solutions, including higher taxes on the wealthy or companies, which Macron, a former economy minister, says would hurt the financial system.

Source: News Agencies