New show of anger as French protest Macron pension reforms
March 28, 2023 09:49 PM
Protesters took to the streets in France on Tuesday in a new show of anger against President Emmanuel Macron's pension reform, with a record number of police deployed after previous demonstrations descended into violence.
Protesters were clashing with security forces by mid-afternoon in the major western city of Nantes, while in Paris union members blocked the Gare de Lyon rail hub by walking onto the tracks, AFP correspondents said.
The day of action is the tenth since protests began in mid-January against the law, which includes raising the retirement age from 62 to 64.
Last Thursday saw the most violent clashes yet between protesters and security forces, as tensions erupted into pitched battles on the streets of Paris.
The police have also been accused of using excessive force -- both by protesters and rights bodies including the Council of Europe -- and this risks fuelling protesters' anger.
Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said 13,000 members of the security forces would be deployed on Tuesday -- 5,500 of them in Paris alone. The number, a record, was justified by "a major risk to public order".
In Nantes, protesters threw projectiles at security forces who responded with tear gas, an AFP reporter said. A bank branch was set on fire as were rubbish bins around the city court.
Protesters in Nantes had earlier blocked access roads to the city, creating 45 kilometres (30 miles) of congestion.
Clashes were meanwhile erupting in Rennes, also in western France, a flashpoint in last week's demonstrations, AFP correspondents said.
Protesters delayed trains at Gare de Lyon station in Paris, walking on the rails and lighting flares in what they described as a show of solidarity for a railway staffer who lost an eye in a previous protest.
Tens of thousands of protesters were meanwhile massing in Paris for a march across the centre of the city.
'No wow factor'
Nearly two weeks after Macron forced the new pensions law through parliament using a special provision, unions have vowed no let-up in mass protests to get the government to back down.
A state visit to France by Britain's King Charles III, which had been due to begin on Sunday, was postponed because of the unrest.
Macron on Monday instead met Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne, other cabinet ministers and senior lawmakers for crisis talks at the Elysee Palace.
"We need to continue to hold out a hand to the unions," a participant in the meeting quoted Macron as saying, although the president rejected any revision of the pensions law.
In a conciliatory gesture, Borne has scheduled talks over three weeks with members of parliament, political parties and local authorities, while still hoping to meet union leaders.
Laurent Berger, the head of the moderate CFDT union called for the appointment of a mediator between unions and the government saying this would be "a gesture in favour of cooling off, and finding a way out".
Hard-left CGT union leader Philippe Martinez said: "The aim is the withdrawal" of the pensions law.
But government spokesman Olivier Veran said the law was no longer up for discussion.
"It's in the past now," he said.
The protest movement against the pension reform has turned into the biggest domestic crisis of Macron's second mandate, with his approval rating at just 30 percent.
'Not going to make it'
Young people were prominent in Tuesday's protests, with many blockading universities and high schools.
"I agree with the protesters," said Yasmine Mounib, a 19-year-old student in Lille, northern France.
"But they should keep some trains running for students. This is costing me my education," she said, adding that she was going to miss her 8 am (0600 GMT) class although she got up at 4.
Carole Guibert, a high school teacher in Douai, also in northern France, said she too was worried.
"I told my pupils that I would teach my class, but I'm not going to make it," she said.
Mass transit in Paris was heavily affected, with traffic both on metros and suburban trains disrupted.
Rubbish collectors in the capital are continuing their strike, with close to 8,000 tonnes of garbage piled up in the streets as of Sunday.
About 15 percent of service stations in France are short of petrol because of refinery strikes.
The Louvre in Paris, the world's most visited museum, was closed on Monday after workers blocked entry.
As on previous strike days, the Eiffel Tower in Paris was also shut on Tuesday.