Violent French pension protests erupt as 1M demonstrates

PARIS — More than 1 million people demonstrated across France on Thursday against unpopular pension reforms, and violence broke out in some places as unions called for new nationwide strikes and protests next week, coinciding with King Charles III’s planned visit to France.

The Interior Ministry said the march in Paris — marred by violence, like countless marches elsewhere — drew 119,000 people, a record for the capital during the retirement protests. Polls show that most French oppose President Emmanuel Macron’s bill to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64, which he says is necessary to keep the system going.

Building on the strong turnout, unions were quick to call for new protests and strikes on Tuesday, when the British king will visit Bordeaux on the second day of his trip to France. The heavy wooden door of Bordeaux’s elegant town hall was set on fire and quickly vandalized on Thursday evening by members of an unauthorized demonstration, the Sud Ouest newspaper reported.

Nationwide, more than a million people took part in protest marches held Thursday in cities and towns across the country, the ministry said.

Home Secretary Gerald Darmanin, who visited police headquarters on Thursday evening as fires continued to rage in some areas of Paris, assured that security “is not a problem” and that the British monarch will be “welcome and well received”. “.

He said there was “huge humiliation” of public buildings and commerce on Thursday, “much more significant than previous demonstrations”.

“There are troublemakers, often on the far left, who want to bring down the state and kill the police and eventually take over the institutions,” the minister said.

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The demonstrations came a day after Macron further angered his critics by championing the pension bill that his government had forced through parliament without a vote.

“As the (President) tries to turn the page, this social and trade union movement … reaffirms the determination of the world of workers and youth to pull back reform,” the eight unions organizing protests said in a statement. It called for local action this weekend and new nationwide strikes and protests Tuesday.

Strikes disrupted travel as protesters blocked train stations, Paris Charles de Gaulle airport, refineries and ports.

In Paris, street battles between police and black-clad, masked groups who attacked at least two fast-food restaurants, a supermarket and a bank reflected increased violence and drew attention away from the tens of thousands of peaceful protesters.

The police, pelted with Molotov cocktails, objects and fireworks, attacked several times and used tear gas to disperse rioters. A haze of tear gas fumes covered part of the Place de l’Opera, where protesters gathered at the end of the march. Darmanin said there were about 1,500 radicals.

Violence marred other marches, notably in the western cities of Nantes, Rennes and Lorient — where an administrative building was attacked and the police station courtyard set on fire and windows smashed — and in Lyon, in the south-east.

Thursday’s nationwide protests were the ninth trade union-organized demonstrations since January, when opponents still hoped parliament would reject Macron’s move to raise the retirement age. But the government enforced it through a special constitutional measure.

In an interview on Wednesday, Macron refused to back down from his position that a new law is needed to keep the pension fund funded. Opponents proposed other solutions, including higher taxes on the wealthy or businesses, which Macron said would hurt the economy. He insisted that the government’s bill to raise the retirement age should be implemented by the end of the year.

The Constitutional Council must now approve the measure.

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“We are trying to say before the law is passed … that we have to find a way out and we keep saying that the way out is the repeal of the law,” said moderate union CFDT chief Laurent Berger. told The Associated Press.

High-speed and regional trains, the Paris metro and public transport in other major cities were disrupted. About 30% of flights at Paris Orly Airport were cancelled.

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

Violence, a recurring problem at protests, has increased in recent days. Darmanin said 12,000 security troops were on French streets on Thursday, with 5,000 in Paris.

The Ministry of Education said in a statement that about 24% of teachers in primary and secondary schools resigned on Thursday, and 15% in secondary schools.

At the Gare de Lyon train station in Paris, several hundred strikers lined the tracks to prevent trains from moving, brandishing flares and chanting “and we will go, and we will go until we pull out” and “Macron, go away.”

“This year our holidays may not be so great,” said Maxime Monin, 46, who stressed that workers like him, who work in public transport, are not paid on strike days. “But I think it’s worth the sacrifice.”

In the northern suburbs of Paris, several dozen union members blocked a bus depot in Pantin, preventing about 200 vehicles from getting out during rush hour.

Nadia Belhoum, a 48-year-old bus driver who took part in the action, criticized Macron’s decision to force the higher retirement age.

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“The President of the Republic … is not a king and he must listen to his people,” she said.


Associated Press journalists Sylvie Corbet, Helena Alves, Masha Macpherson and Jeffrey Schaeffer in Paris contributed to this report.

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