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French pension protesters target Paris restaurant favoured by Macron

2023-04-06T15:49:32Z

Clashes erupted in Paris next to a Left Bank brasserie favoured by French President Emmanuel Macron during a day of nationwide protests against a pension bill that he has pushed through despite widespread opposition.

La Rotonde, whose awning was briefly on fire as protesters threw bottles and paint at police, is well known in France for hosting a much-criticised celebratory dinner for Macron when he led the first round of the 2017 presidential election.

Protests since January have gathered huge crowds against the flagship reform of Macron’s second term, which lifts the retirement age by two years to 64.

But the rallies and strikes have also coalesced widespread anger against the president, who is often the target of banners and chants.

“Strike, blockade, Macron walk away!” protesters chanted in the western city of Rennes, where police fired tear gas at protesters who threw projectiles at them and set bins on fire.

The protests have otherwise been largely peaceful, though violence has broken out on the fringes in cities across France. On Thursday, a Credit Agricole bank branch was ransacked in Paris.

Polls show a wide majority of voters oppose the pension legislation and the government’s decision to push it through parliament without a vote. But a source close to Macron said that was not what mattered.

“If the role of a president of the republic is to make decisions according to public opinion, there is no need to have elections,” the source said. “Being president is to assume choices that may be unpopular at a given time.”

Union leaders and protesters said the only way out of the crisis was for the legislation to be scrapped, an option which the government has repeatedly rejected.

“There is no other solution than withdrawing the reform,” the new leader of the hardline CGT union, Sophie Binet, said at the start of the Paris rally.

Thursday’s marches – the 11th nationwide day of protests in the past three months – could bring some hope to officials who believe the rallies may be losing steam.

Trains were less heavily disrupted than in previous days. Fewer teachers were on strike and the civil aviation authority asked airlines to cut flights by 20% in cities like Marseille, but not at Paris airports as in previous strikes.

A key date will be April 14, when the Constitutional Council delivers its verdict on the pension bill. Constitutional experts say the council is unlikely to strike the legislation down, which may help weaken protests.

“Mobilisation will continue, one way or another … It’s a long distance race,” the CGT’s Binet said.

In the Paris rally, nurse Soraya Bouadouia said: “I will be here until the withdrawal of the pension reform, which is a completely unacceptable reform.”

With Macron on an official trip to Beijing, one protester held a banner that read: “Macron resign. You will hear us all the way to China.”

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French gendarmes secure a position in front of La Rotonde restaurant during a demonstration as part of the eleventh day of nationwide strikes and protests against French government’s pension reform, in Paris, France, April 6, 2023. REUTERS/Sarah Meyssonnier

French CRS riot police secure a position in front of La Rotonde restaurant during clashes with protesters at a demonstration as part of the eleventh day of nationwide strikes and protests against French government’s pension reform, in Paris, France, April 6, 2023. REUTERS/Sarah Meyssonnier

The awning of La Rotonde restaurant burns amid clashes during a demonstration as part of the eleventh day of nationwide strikes and protests against French government’s pension reform, in Paris, France, April 6, 2023. REUTERS/Sarah Meyssonnier

French gendarmes and members of the BRAV-M, the motorized violent action repression police Brigades, secure a position in front of La Rotonde restaurant during clashes with protesters at a demonstration as part of the eleventh day of nationwide strikes and protests against French government’s pension reform, in Paris, France, April 6, 2023. REUTERS/Sarah Meyssonnier

A protester shouts slogan during a demonstration as part of the eleventh day of nationwide strikes and protests against French government’s pension reform, in Rennes, France, April 6, 2023. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe

French CFDT labour union member Marylise Leon and newly-elected French CGT labour union leader Sophie Binet attend a demonstration as part of the eleventh day of nationwide strikes and protests against French government’s pension reform, in Paris, France, April 6, 2023. REUTERS/Sarah Meyssonnier

Masked protesters react amid tear gas during clashes at a demonstration as part of the eleventh day of nationwide strikes and protests against French government’s pension reform, in Rennes, France, April 6, 2023. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe

Masked protesters react amid tear gas during clashes at a demonstration as part of the eleventh day of nationwide strikes and protests against French government’s pension reform, in Rennes, France, April 6, 2023. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe

Masked protesters react amid tear gas during clashes at a demonstration as part of the eleventh day of nationwide strikes and protests against French government’s pension reform, in Rennes, France, April 6, 2023. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe

Students hold a banner during a demonstration as part of the eleventh day of nationwide strikes and protests against French government’s pension reform, in Rennes, France, April 6, 2023. The slogan reads “Strike, blockage, Macron get out”. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe

Protesters hold a banner which reads “no to the pension reform” during a demonstration as part of the eleventh day of nationwide strikes and protests against French government’s pension reform, in Calais, France, April 6, 2023. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol

A protester holds a placard which reads “the water boils at 100 degrees, the people at 49.3” during a demonstration as part of the eleventh day of nationwide strikes and protests against French government’s pension reform, in Calais, France, April 6, 2023. The 49.3 is a special clause in the French Constitution, used by French government to push the pensions reform bill through the National Assembly without a vote by lawmakers. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol

French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne and inter-unions representatives pose prior to talks at Hotel de Matignon in Paris, France April 5, 2023 after a pensions reform was pushed through parliament by the French government without a vote, using the article 49.3 of the constitution. Bertrand Guay/Pool via REUTERS

A banner reading “64, it’s no” is hung by French CGT labour union members to protest against French government’s pension reform, on the top of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, France, April 5, 2023. REUTERS/Sarah Meyssonnier

Laurent Berger, French Democratic Confederation of Labour (CFDT) union’s general secretary and Sophie Binet, newly elected CGT trade union general secretary, sit prior to talks between Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne and inter-unions representatives at Hotel de Matignon in Paris, France April 5, 2023 after a pensions reform was pushed through parliament by the French government without a vote, using the article 49.3 of the constitution. Bertrand Guay/Pool via REUTERS

Newly-elected French CGT labour union leader Sophie Binet and Laurent Berger, Secretary General of French Democratic Confederation of Labour (CFDT) leave after a meeting on pension reform with French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne at the Hotel Matignon in Paris, France, April 5, 2023. REUTERS/Sarah Meyssonnier

Protesters attend a demonstration during the ninth day of nationwide strikes and protests against French government’s pension reform, in Nantes, France, March 23, 2023. The slogan reads “for a boundless democracy” in reference to French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe/File Photo

A banner reading “64, it’s no” is hung by French CGT labour union members to protest against French government’s pension reform, on the top of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, France, April 5, 2023. REUTERS/Sarah Meyssonnier
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