Violence broke out 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 unpopular pension reforms.
President Emmanuel Macron’s reform raises the normal retirement age by two years to 64, which he says is necessary to prevent the system from breaking down.
After ministers approved the plan by decree on Thursday, bypassing the lower house of parliament, rival opposition parties filed two separate motions of no confidence, 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 being banned from demonstrating near the National Assembly building due to angry clashes the previous evenings.
The ban was imposed “because of the serious risk of public order disturbance”.
World The newspaper reported that a group of protesters lit trash can fires, destroyed class on billboards and bus roofs, and barriers used to block streets at the police station.
According to the newspaper, 73 people were arrested, and just like on previous nights, riot police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse the crowd.
Earlier on Saturday, dozens of students and activists marched through 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 as small groups clashed with police several times, prompting a response that included tear gas.
On Friday, more than 30 people were arrested when a group of protesters tried to break into the city hall and set the building on fire.
In most other French cities, including Marseille, Montpellier and Nantes, there were mostly peaceful marches, with one sign reading “Death to the King” in an apparent reference to Macron.
What next for the protest movement?
A broad confederation of France’s main unions has said it will continue to mobilize its members in an attempt to force pension changes.
Some unions ordered workers to continue their strikes, severely affecting high-speed and regional rail services this weekend, among other services.
Paris’ municipal garbage collectors have continued to operate, and by Friday, an estimated 10,000 tons of garbage remained on the streets.
At some French airports, almost a third of flights will be canceled on Monday due to walkouts, union leaders predicted.
The CGT union said its members had shut down the TotalEnergies oil refinery in Normandy on Friday night. A similar blockade of a refinery in southern France began earlier in the day.
A national day of industrial action is also planned for Thursday – the ninth since mid-January.
Public hostility is not enough to overturn the plans
There was already strong opposition to the pension reform, with two-thirds of the French population opposing the plan, according to opinion polls.
But the sudden move to avoid a parliamentary vote by citing the controversial Article 49.3 of the constitution caused not only public outrage but also criticism from the political class.
In parliament next week, opposition lawmakers hope to gain enough support to topple the government in a no-confidence vote and repeal the law.
However, Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne’s government is largely expected to survive.
The proposal would require the support of about half of the opposition right-wing Republican group, which is highly unlikely. They would also need the joint support of the powerful far-left and far-right factions in the National Assembly.
Macron put pension reforms at the center of his re-election campaign last year.
Although his government argued that France needed to toe the line of its European neighbors, where the retirement age is typically higher, critics say the changes are unfair to people who work from a young age in physically demanding jobs and women who pause their careers to raise children .
The unrest is reminiscent of the yellow vest protests that erupted in late 2018 over high fuel prices that forced Macron to make a partial reversal of the carbon tax.
Macron had also planned pension reforms for his first term as president, but had to scrap the idea and campaigned last year on a promise to get the job done.
mm/msh (AFP, AP, Reuters)