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Protesters march across France against Macron and his pension bill

2023-03-28T13:44:37Z

French protesters blocked train tracks and highways, and clashed with police in some cities, as they marched across the country against President Emmanuel Macron and his deeply unpopular pension bill.

One protester in Paris seemed to capture the mood, brandishing a banner that read: “France is angry”.

“The (pension) bill has acted as a catalyst for anger over Macron’s policies,” 31-year-old Fanny Charier, who works for the Pole Emploi office for job seekers, said at the same rally.

Earlier in the day, the government rejected a new demand by unions to suspend and rethink the pension bill, which will delay retirement age by two years to 64, infuriating labour leaders who said the government must find a way out of the crisis.

The government said it was more than willing to talk to unions, but on other topics, and repeated it would stand firm on the pension front.

“We have proposed a way out … and it’s intolerable that we are being stonewalled again,” the head of the CFDT union, Laurent Berger, told reporters at the start of a rally in Paris.

Macron, who promised to deliver pension reform in both of his presidential campaigns, says change is needed to keep the country’s finances in balance. Unions and opposition parties say there are other ways to do that.

Millions of people have been demonstrating and joining strike action since mid-January to show their opposition to the bill.

But public frustration has evolved into broader anti-Macron sentiment.

In particular, the protests have intensified since the government used special powers to push the bill through parliament without a vote.

In the last big day of protests on Thursday, “Black Bloc” anarchists smashed shop windows, demolished bus stops and ransacked a McDonald’s restaurant in Paris, with similar acts in other cities.

That was some of the worst street violence in years in France, bringing scenes reminiscent of unrest by supporters of the yellow-vest movement during Macron’s first term.

“It would be crazy not to take the time to try and calm things down,” union leader Berger said.

On Tuesday, rallies in several cities started peacefully in the morning, but clashes erupted later.

In the western city of Nantes, the boarded-up front of a BNP Paribas bank branch was set on fire. A car was set on fire in the margins of the otherwise peaceful rally, while some shot fireworks at police.

“I’m non-violent but I understand people who go that far,” 69-year old retired postman Noel Cassin said in Nantes.

“If you just go and demonstrate, sing songs and eat sausages, then go home after losing a day’s work (and not getting any result), it’s useless.”

Also in western France, protesters blocked the Rennes ring road and set an abandoned car on fire.

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin had said on Monday that authorities were anticipating a “very serious risk to public order” at demonstrations on Tuesday.

A total of 13,000 police were expected to be deployed during the protests throughout the day.

Rolling strikes in the transport, aviation and energy sectors continued to disrupt travel.

About 17% of all fuel stations in France were missing at least one product as of Monday night, France’s petroleum association UFIP said, citing energy ministry data.

Student union UNEF said the entrances to around 20 universities including Sciences Po and parts of the Sorbonne in Paris were also blocked.

There were fewer protesters in Marseille and other cities than at previous rallies.

Charles de Courson, from the opposition Liot party, said French authorities should learn from the situation in Israel, where the government just hit pause on a controversial justice overhaul.

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A general view shows protesters gathering at Place de la Republique during a demonstration as part of the tenth day of nationwide strikes and protests against French government’s pension reform in Paris, France, March 28, 2023. REUTERS/Nacho Doce

A man stands in front of a burning car during clashes at a demonstration as part of the tenth day of nationwide strikes and protests against French government’s pension reform in Nantes, France, March 28, 2023. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe

Protesters from the CGT labour union hold a placard depicting French President Emmanuel Macron as a king during a demonstration as part of the tenth day of nationwide strikes and protests against French government’s pension reform in Nice, France, March 28, 2023. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard

French police remove burning garbage bins in front of the entrance of the administrative court during clashes at a demonstration as part of the tenth day of nationwide strikes and protests against French government’s pension reform in Nantes, France, March 28, 2023. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe

A woman with her eye painted with red makeup to denounce police violence holds a French labour union flag during a demonstration as part of the tenth day of nationwide strikes and protests against French government’s pension reform in Nice, France, March 28, 2023. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard

Protesters from the CGT labour union attend a demonstration as part of the tenth day of nationwide strikes and protests against French government’s pension reform in Nantes, France, March 28, 2023. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe

Protestesr hold a banner which reads “No to the pension reform” during a demonstration as part of the tenth day of nationwide strikes and protests against French government’s pension reform in Nice, France, March 28, 2023. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard

A protester walks his dog wearing a CGT labour union vest during a demonstration as part of the tenth day of nationwide strikes and protests against French government’s pension reform in Nice, France, March 28, 2023. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard

Protesters from the CGT labour union attend a demonstration as part of the tenth day of nationwide strikes and protests against French government’s pension reform in Nantes, France, March 28, 2023. The placard reads “we are on our knees”. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe

Protesters holding French CGT and Sud Culture Solidaires labour unions flags stand in front of the glass Pyramid to block the entrance of the Louvre museum to protest against the French government’s pension reform, in Paris, France, France, March 27, 2023. REUTERS/Marco Trujillo
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