Violence erupted between protesters and security forces for a third night in central Paris on Saturday over the government’s decision to abandon a parliamentary vote on the unpopular pension reform.
President Emmanuel Macron’s overhaul will raise the normal retirement age by two years to 64, which he says is key to ensuring the system does not collapse.
After ministers approved the plan by decree on Thursday, bypassing the lower house of parliament, rival opposition parties tabled two separate no-confidence motions, which are due to be debated on Monday afternoon. They are expected to fail.
What happened on Saturday?
Police said around 4,000 people gathered in Place d’Italie after they were banned from protesting near the National Assembly building due to violent clashes the previous nights.
The ban was ordered due to “serious risks of disturbing public order”.
The world The newspaper said a group of protesters set fires to trash cans, smashed class over billboards and bus shelters and barriers, used to block streets, at police.
According to the newspaper, 73 people were arrested and, as on previous nights, riot police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse the crowd.
Earlier Saturday, dozens of students and activists marched in Paris Forum des Halles mall, singing loudly and emitting red smoke.
Violence was also reported in the southeastern city of Lyon for a second night when small groups clashed with police on several occasions, prompting a response that included tear gas.
On Friday, more than 30 people were arrested after a group of protesters tried to break into a town hall and set the building on fire.
Mostly peaceful marches took place in several other French cities, including Marseille, Montpellier and Nantes – where a sign read “Death to the King”, apparently in reference to Macron.
What future for the protest movement?
A broad alliance of France’s main unions said it would continue to mobilize members to try to force a U-turn on pension changes.
Some unions have ordered workers to continue their rotating strikes, severely affecting high-speed and regional rail services this weekend, among other services.
Municipal garbage collectors in Paris continued their action and, on Friday, around 10,000 tonnes of waste were abandoned in the streets.
Some French airports will see nearly a third of flights canceled on Monday following walkouts, union leaders have predicted.
The CGT union said its members closed the TotalEnergies oil refinery in Normandy on Friday evening. A similar blockade of a refinery in southern France began earlier today.
A nationwide day of industrial action is also scheduled for Thursday – the ninth since mid-January.
Public hostility not enough to cancel plans
Opposition to the pension reform was already high, with two-thirds of the French population against the plan, according to polls.
But the sudden decision to avoid a parliamentary vote, citing controversial Article 49.3 of the constitution, sparked not only public outrage but also criticism from within the political class.
In parliament next week, opposition lawmakers hope to garner enough support to overthrow the cabinet in votes of no confidence and repeal the law.
But the cabinet of Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne should largely survive.
The motion would need the support of about half of the opposition right-wing Republican group, a scenario seen as highly unlikely. They would also need the shared support of powerful far-left and far-right factions in the National Assembly.
Macron made pension reform central to his re-election campaign last year.
While its government has argued that France should align itself with its European neighbors where the retirement age is generally higher, critics say the changes are unfair to people working from a young age in physically demanding jobs and women who interrupt their careers to raise children.
The unrest is reminiscent of the Yellow Vest protests that erupted in late 2018 over high fuel prices, which forced Macron to make a partial U-turn on a carbon tax.
Macron had also planned pension reforms for his first term as president but had to backtrack on the idea, campaigning last year on a promise to finish the job.
mm/msh (AFP, AP, Reuters)