Amid massive demonstrations, Macron postpones Charles’s visit

PARIS — PARIS (AP) — Ongoing unrest across France and calls for a new round of demonstrations against President Emmanuel Macron’s retirement plan have persuaded officials to postpone a planned state visit by Britain’s King Charles III next week.

While it is a clear disappointment for the royal palace, the decision is also a bad sign for Macron. Increasingly loathed by protesters and contested in parliament, the 45-year-old leader is seen as oblivious to France’s sour mood while sticking to his views. And that is now also damaging his global image.

Charles was due to arrive in France on Sunday to celebrate the newfound friendship between France and Britain. But the protests and strikes against Macron’s decision to raise France’s retirement age from 62 to 64 promised to affect his visit, with some workers refusing to roll out the red carpet for the king’s arrival.

Violence escalated during Thursday’s ninth union-organized nationwide marches. More than 450 protesters were arrested in Paris and beyond, and hundreds of police officers and protesters were injured, while rallies across the country drew more than a million people.

There were scattered protests on Friday. Train traffic was delayed, queues of trucks blocked access to the port of Marseille for hours and the streets of Paris were littered with rubble.

Macron has made the proposed pension changes the priority of his second term in office, arguing they are necessary to prevent the pension system from plunging into deficit as France, like many wealthier countries, faces lower birth rates and higher unemployment. life expectancy.

Anger over the plan has increasingly turned into broader opposition to Macron’s leadership. His insistence this week that the pension measure be introduced by the end of the year prompted critics to describe him as “smug” and “out of touch”.

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During his first term, Macron’s government made other changes that it said would make France’s labor market more flexible and revitalize the economy. Those include making it easier to hire and fire employees, lowering business taxes, and making it harder for the unemployed to claim benefits.

Critics argue the changes jeopardize a social safety net seen as central to the way of life in France.

Countries across Europe have raised the retirement age. Pension rules differ widely from country to country, making direct comparisons difficult. The official retirement age in the US is now 67.

Macron’s plan includes multiple adjustments to France’s complex pension system. French people would also have to work 43 years to earn a full pension, or wait until they turn 67, as the law now dictates. Opponents have proposed other solutions, including higher taxes on the wealthy or corporations.

However, the government refused to consider it and forced the bill through parliament last week, using a constitutional power, and the text is now under review by France’s Constitutional Council. The forced passage further angered Macron’s critics.

Macron condemned the violent behavior at some protests, saying “violence has no place in a democracy”.

He said “common sense and friendship” required postponing King Charles’s visit, adding that it would likely have become a protest target, creating an “odious situation”.

It would not be reasonable “to make a state visit in the middle of the protests,” the French leader said at a press conference following a summit in Brussels. He said he took the initiative to call Charles on Friday morning and the visit would likely be moved to the summer.

Charles and Queen Consort Camilla planned to visit both France and Germany on the King’s first trip abroad as a British monarch. He still plans to go to Germany.

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Charles was due to visit the city of Bordeaux on Tuesday, coinciding with the tenth round of nationwide strikes and protests. The heavy wooden door of Bordeaux’s elegant town hall was destroyed by fire on Thursday evening by people taking part in an unauthorized demonstration.

Bordeaux wine industry officials regretted that Charles would not be coming next week, but were happy that the visit would take place anyway.

“We are of course disappointed that Charles is not coming now, but we clearly understand why,” says Cecile Ha of the Bordeaux Wine Council. “We look forward to welcoming him at the end of the summer, which is a great time for the vineyards as they are very lively at this time of year before harvest.”

French authorities have blamed radicals for the protest destruction. But Europe’s main human rights body, the Council of Europe, the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH) and media watchdog Reporters Without Borders also expressed concern on Friday about police violence against what has been a largely peaceful movement.

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said on Friday that investigations are underway this week into 11 complaints of excessive police force.

He added that 1,000 rubbish bins have been set on fire in the French capital; overflowing rubbish bins have become a symbol of the protests during a weeks-long strike by sanitation workers.

Fires in Paris that were deliberately lit in narrow or inaccessible alleyways on Thursday night alarmed city officials and residents alike. Firefighters and residents tried to contain flames that rose to the second floor of an apartment building in the posh Palais Royal district.

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Oil refineries have been another target. On Friday, emboldened protesters blocked the Fos-sur-mer oil depot near Marseille to prevent trucks from entering and leaving. However, fuel supplies to Paris from the large Gonfreville-L’Orcher refinery in Normandy resumed after police intervention.

Fearing disruptions in the coming days, France’s civil aviation authority requested the cancellation of a third of flights at Paris’ second airport, Orly, on Sunday and 20% on Monday.


Danica Kirka in London and Samuel Petrequin in Brussels contributed to this report.

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