French protests turn violent as pensions fury rages
By Toni Cerda with AFP bureaux
PARIS – Hundreds of thousands of French workers on Thursday (23) massed in a new show of anger against President Emmanuel Macron’s pension reform, with protests turning violent in Paris and other cities in a confrontation that shows showed no sign of abating.
The uproar over the imposition of the reform – which the government chose to push through without a vote in Parliament – has turned into the biggest domestic crisis of Macron’s second term in office.
It is also threatening to cast a shadow over the visit to France next week of King Charles III, the first foreign visit he has made as monarch.
The numbers in Paris and other cities appeared higher than in previous protest days this year, the protests given new momentum by Macron’s refusal in a TV interview Wednesday to back down on the reform.
The streets of Paris saw clashes between protesters and police during a big demonstration, with security forces firing teargas and charging crowds with batons.
Fires were lit in the street, with pallets and piles of uncollected rubbish set ablaze, prompting firefighters to intervene, AFP correspondents said.
Some 800,000 people marched in the capital, according to the hard-left CGT union, the highest daily number given by unions since the start of the protest movement.
Several hundred black-clad radical demonstrators were breaking windows of banks, shops and fast-food outlets, and destroying street furniture, AFP journalists witnessed.
Police reported 14 arrests by 5:00 p.m. (1600 GMT).
Since the government imposed the reform last Thursday (16), nightly demonstrations have taken place across France, with young people coordinating their actions on encrypted messaging services,
In the western city of Rennes, one protester held up a sign reading: “I want to grow old with my lover, not with my boss.”
School teacher Cedric Nothias, 46, held up a sign that read: “How does one teach democracy when Macron is trampling all over it?”
In Paris, 61-year-old speech therapist Laurence Briens said she had joined thousands in the streets because she was angry with the way the reform had been adopted.
“It’s as if we’re being treated like children,” she said.
Protesters briefly occupied the tracks at the Gare de Lyon train station in Paris, and some blocked access to Charles de Gaulle airport.
Half of France’s high-speed train services were cancelled, and rubbish is still piled up in the streets of Paris because of stoppages by garbage collectors.
Anger surged after a defiant Macron said on Wednesday that he was prepared to accept unpopularity over the pensions reform which he said was “necessary”.
A survey on Sunday showed Macron’s personal approval rating at just 28 percent, its lowest since the anti-government “Yellow Vest” protest movement in 2018-2019.
Acting on Macron’s instructions, Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne last week invoked an article in the constitution to adopt the reform without a parliamentary vote, sparking two no-confidence motions in parliament which she survived.
Thursday’s protests were the latest in a string of nationwide stoppages that began in mid-January against the pension changes.
In the southern city of Marseille, Marine Danaux, 43, said she had brought her son to the protest “so he realises what’s going on”.
The ministry of energy transition on Thursday warned that kerosene supply to the capital and its airports was becoming “critical” as blockages at oil refineries continued.
Spontaneous protests have broken out on a daily basis in recent days, leading to hundreds of arrests and accusations of heavy-handed tactics by police.
Amnesty International has expressed alarm “about the widespread use of excessive force and arbitrary arrests reported in several media outlets”.
Macron said Wednesday that the pensions changes needed to “come into force by the end of the year”.
Backtracking on earlier comments that the crowds demonstrating had “no legitimacy”, he said organised protests were “legitimate”, but violence should be condemned and blockages should not impede normal activity.
UK’s King Charles III is due to arrive Sunday for his first foreign state visit as monarch.
French public sector trade unionists have warned they will not provide red carpets during the visit, but non-striking workers are expected to roll them out.
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