In France, some protests against raising the retirement age turn violent

A handful of protests against President Emmanuel Macron’s plan raising the retirement age in France from 62 to 64 took place in Paris and beyond on Saturday, as uncollected rubbish continued to stink on the streets of the French capital amid a strike by sanitation workers.

Largely non-violent protests took place in various cities, including Nantes and Marseille, where protesters drove past police to occupy the main train station for around 15 minutes. In the eastern city of Besançon, hundreds of demonstrators lit a fire and burned voter cards.

In Paris, an eerie calm has returned to most of the French capital after two consecutive nights of unrest. Police have banned gatherings on the Avenue des Champs-Elysees and the elegant Place de la Concorde, where protesters threw an effigy of Macron into a bonfire to the cheers of the crowd on Friday night.

Protesters gather outside the National Assembly in Paris, France, before the French government pushes a pension reform through parliament without a vote. March 16, 2023.

Michel Stoupak via Getty Images

Several thousand demonstrators gathered on Saturday evening in a public square in the south of Paris, Place d’Italie, where some set fire to garbage cans.

Protesters are trying to pressure lawmakers to bring down the Macron government and condemn the unpopular increase in the retirement age it is trying to impose without a vote in the National Assembly.

After Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne invoked a special constitutional power to circumvent a vote in the chaotic lower house, lawmakers on the right and left filed no-confidence motions against her cabinet on Friday. The motions are expected to be voted on Monday.

Some Parisians buying their weekend baguettes blamed the Macron administration for fumes emanating from rubbish piled up near a bakery in the city’s 12th arrondissement.

“The government should change its position and listen to people because what is happening is extremely serious. And we are witnessing radicalization,” said Isabelle Vergriette, 64, a psychologist. “The government is largely responsible for this.”

The mayor of the borough, Emmanuelle Pierre-Marie, was out at dawn to worry in her neighborhood about the consequences of uncollected garbage, which has become a visual and olfactory symbol of the actions aimed at derailing the presidential reform plan. retirements.

“Food waste is our priority because it’s what brings parasites to the surface,” said Pierre-Marie. “We are extremely sensitive to the situation. As soon as we have a dumpster available, we give priority to the most affected places, such as food markets.”

More labor strikes were scheduled for Monday in many sectors, from transport to energy. Civil Aviation has requested the cancellation of 30% of flights at Orly, the second airport in Paris, and 20% at Marseille.

The CGT trade union confederation has warned that at least two oil refineries could be closed from Monday. Industry Minister Roland Lescure said the government could requisition staff – order workers back to their posts – to avoid fuel shortages.

Macron argued that forcing the French to work two more years was necessary to reinvigorate the country’s economy and prevent its pension system from falling into deficit as the population ages.

Laurent Berger, leader of the moderate CFDT union, said the pension reform “must be withdrawn”.

“We condemn the violence. (…) But look at the anger. It is very strong, even in our ranks,” he said on RMC radio.

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