Violence erupts at French pension protests for 3rd night – DW – 18/03/2023

Violence broke out in central Paris for the third night on Saturday between protesters and security forces over the government’s decision to abandon a parliamentary vote on unpopular pension reforms.

President Emmanuel Macron’s overhaul will raise the default retirement age by two years to 64, which he says is essential to ensure the system doesn’t go bankrupt.

After ministers approved the plan by decree on Thursday, outside the House of Representatives, rival opposition parties tabled two separate motions of no confidence, which will be discussed on Monday afternoon. They are expected to fail.

What happened on Saturday?

Police said about 4,000 people gathered in Place d’Italie after furious clashes prevented them from demonstrating near the National Assembly building in recent nights.

The ban was ordered due to “serious risks of public order disturbance”.

The world According to the paper, a group of protesters started garbage fires, broke classes on billboards and bus shelters, and smashed barriers, which were used to block streets, at police.

The newspaper said 73 people were arrested and, as on the previous nights, riot police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse the crowd.

Earlier Saturday, dozens of students and activists marched through Paris’ Forum des Halles mall, singing loudly and blowing red smoke.

Violence was also reported in the southeastern city of Lyon for a second night as small groups confronted police several times, 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.

French protest against Macron’s pension reforms

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Mostly peaceful marches took place in several other French cities, including Marseille, Montpellier and Nantes – where a sign read ‘Death to the King’, apparently referring to Macron.

Workers continued protests in several cities over the government’s approach to pension reformsImage: STEPHANE MAHE/REUTERS

What now for the protest movement?

A broad alliance of France’s main unions has said it will continue to mobilize members to try to reverse pension changes.

Some unions ordered workers to continue their ongoing strikes, which hit high-speed and regional rail services, among others, heavily this weekend.

Paris municipal waste collectors have continued their action and by Friday an estimated 10,000 tons of waste were on the streets.

At some French airports, almost a third of flights will be canceled on Monday due to strikes, union leaders predicted.

The CGT union said its members shut down the TotalEnergies oil refinery in Normandy on Friday evening. A similar blockade of a refinery in southern France began earlier in the day.

Thursday, the ninth since mid-January, is also a day of nationwide union action.

Public hostility not enough to destroy plans

Opposition to the pension reform was already strong, with two-thirds of the French population opposing the plan, according to polls.

But the sudden move to avoid a parliamentary vote, invoking the controversial Article 49.3 of the constitution, not only sparked public outcry but also criticism among the political class.

French government forces through pension reform

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In parliament next week, opposition lawmakers hope to gain enough support to overthrow the cabinet in no-confidence votes and repeal the law.

But Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne’s cabinet is expected to largely survive.

The motion would need support from about half of the opposition’s group of right-wing Republicans, a scenario considered highly unlikely. They would also need the shared support of the powerful far-left and far-right factions in the National Assembly.

Macron placed pension reforms at the center of his re-election campaign last year.

While his government argued that France should conform to its European neighbours, where retirement ages tend to be higher, critics say the changes are unfair to people working in physically demanding jobs from a young age and to women taking career breaks to raise children. to bring.

The unrest is reminiscent of the yellow vest protests that erupted in late 2018 over high fuel prices, forcing Macron to make a partial U-turn on a carbon tax.

Macron also planned pension reforms for his first term as president, but had to backtrack on the idea and campaigned last year with a pledge to get the job done.

mm/msh (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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