More than one million French citizens demonstrate against pension reforms

Protesters run amid the tear gas during a demonstration in Lyon, central France, Thursday, March 23, 2023. (Photo: Laurent Cipriani/AP)

More than one million people rallied across France on Thursday against unpopular pension reforms. Violence broke out in several locations as unions called for additional nationwide strikes and protest the following week, coinciding with the planned visit of King Charles III.

During the pension protests, the Interior Ministry reported that the march in Paris, marred by violence and numerous other demonstrations, gathered 119,000 participants, a record for the city. According to polls, most French citizens oppose President Emmanuel Macron's proposal to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64, which he claims is vital to save the system.

Unions quickly called for additional protests and strikes on Tuesday, the second day of the British king's tour to France, when he is expected to visit Bordeaux. According to the Sud Ouest newspaper, the big wooden door of the magnificent Bordeaux City Hall was set ablaze and damaged swiftly on Thursday evening by members of an illegal rally.

The ministry reported that more than one million people participated in protest marches organized nationwide on Thursday.

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin visited the police headquarters Thursday evening as fires continued to rage in specific Paris neighbourhoods, reassured the British monarch that security "presents no obstacle" and that she will be "received and welcomed gladly."

Thursday's destruction of public buildings and businesses, he claimed, was "much more severe" than that of previous protests.

The minister stated, "There are troublemakers, frequently from the extreme left, who wish to overthrow the government, murder the police, and finally take control of the institutions."

The demonstrations occur to place the day after, and Macron further infuriated his detractors by sticking firm on the retirement reform that his government rammed through the legislature without a vote.

The eight unions coordinating protests stated, "Although the (president) attempts to turn the page, this social and union action... confirms the commitment of the world of workers and youth to win the withdrawal of the reform." It demanded localized action this weekend and nationwide strikes and demonstrations on Tuesday.

Protesters blocked train stations, Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris, refineries, and ports during a strike, disrupting travel.

In Paris, street fights between police and black-clad, masked groups that stormed at most two minuscule fast-food businesses, a supermarket, and a bank reflected escalating violence and diverted focus from tens of thousands of peaceful demonstrators.

The police were bombarded with Molotov cocktails, other objects, and pyrotechnics, charged repeatedly and fired tear gas to disperse the rioters. Tear gas vapours obscured some of the PlPlacee l'Opera, where demonstrators assembled towards the march's conclusion. According to Darmanin, radicals number around 1,500.

Some marches were plagued by violence, particularly in the western cities of Nantes, Rennes, and Lorient — where an administrative building was attacked, the police station's courtyard was set on fire, and its windows were damaged — and in Lyon, in the southeast.

Since January, when opponents still anticipated parliament would reject Macron's proposal to raise the retirement age, Thursday's statewide rallies were the ninth union-organized demonstrations. But the administration used a particular constitutional provision to force its passage.

In an interview on Wednesday, Macron refused to waver from his position that a new law is required to fund retirement funds. Opponents presented alternative measures, such as increasing taxes on the affluent or corporations, which Macron argues would be detrimental to the economy. He insisted that the bill to increase the retirement age must be implemented by the end of the year.

The Constitutional Council must now give its approval.

The head of the moderate CFDT trade union, Laurent Berger, told the Associated Press, "We are trying to say before the law is passed that we must find a way out, and we continue to say that the way out is the withdrawal of the law."

There were disruptions to high-speed and regional trains, the Paris metro, and public transportation networks in other major cities. Approximately thirty per cent of flights were cancelled at Paris Orly Airport.

Due to the strikes, the Eiffel Tower and the Palace of Versailles, where the British monarch will dine with Macron, were closed on Thursday.

The frequency of violence at protests has increased in recent days. Thursday, 12,000 security troops were on the streets of France, with 5,000 in Paris, according to Darmanin.

The Education Ministry stated that around 24% of teachers in primary and middle schools, and 15% in high schools, walked off the job on Thursday.

At the Gare de Lyon train station in Paris, hundreds of strikers with flares and chants of "and we will go, and we will go until withdrawal" and "Macron, go away" prevented trains from moving.

"Maybe this year our vacations won't be as enjoyable," said Maxime Monin, 46, who emphasized that public transportation workers are not compensated during strike days. "But I believe the sacrifice is worthwhile."

Several dozen union members barricaded a bus terminal in Pantin, preventing roughly 200 buses from leaving during rush hour in the northern suburbs of Paris.

Nadia Belhoum, a 48-year-old bus driver who participated in the protest, condemned Macron's decision to impose the increased retirement age.

She stated, "The president of the Republic is not a monarch, and he must listen to his people."

Publish : 2023-03-24 12:28:00

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