Violence erupts at French pension protests for 3rd night
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 overhaul will raise the standard retirement age by two years to 64, which he says is essential to ensure the system does not go bust.
After ministers approved the plan by decree on Thursday, bypassing the lower house of parliament, rival opposition parties filed 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 being banned from demonstrating close to the National Assembly building due to angry clashes on previous nights.
The ban was ordered because of "serious risks of disturbances to public order."
Le Monde newspaper said a group of protesters started trash fires, broke glass on billboards and bus shelters and threw barriers, used to block streets, at police.
The paper said 73 people were arrested and just as on previous nights, riot police used tear gas and water cannon to disperse the crowd.
Earlier Saturday, dozens of students and activists marched through Paris' Forum des Halles shopping mall, chanting loudly and letting off red smoke.
Violence was also reported in the southeastern city of Lyon for a second night when small groups confronted police several times, prompting a response that included tear gas.
On Friday, more than 30 people were detained after a group of demonstrators tried to break into a town hall and set fire to the building.
Mostly peaceful marches took place in several other French cities, including Marseille, Montpellier and Nantes — where one placard read "Death to the king," seemingly in reference to Macron.
What next for the protest movement?
A broad alliance of France's main unions has said it would continue to mobilize members to try to force a U-turn on the pension changes.
Some unions ordered workers to continue their rolling strikes, severely affecting high-speed and regional rail services this weekend, among other services.
Paris' municipal rubbish collectors have kept up their action, and by Friday an estimated 10,000 tons of trash were left festering in the streets.
Some French airports will see almost a third of flights canceled on Monday as a result of walkouts, union leaders predicted.
The CGT union said its members had 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.
A day of nationwide industrial action is also scheduled for Thursday — the ninth since mid-January.
Public hostility not enough to quash 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 move to avoid a parliamentary vote, invoking the controversial article 49.3 of the constitution, caused not only public outrage but also criticism among the political class.
In parliament next week, opposition lawmakers hope to garner enough support to topple the cabinet in the no-confidence votes and repeal the law.
But Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne's cabinet is largely expected to survive.
The motion would need backing from around half the group of opposition right-wing Republicans, a scenario seen as highly improbable. They would also need the shared support of the powerful extreme left and extreme right factions in the National Assembly.
Macron put the pension reforms at the center of his re-election campaign last year.
While his government argued France needed to fall in line with 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 tough jobs and women who interrupt their careers to raise children.
The unrest is reminiscent of the Yellow Vest protests which erupted in late 2018 over high fuel prices, which forced Macron into a partial U-turn on a carbon tax.
Macron had also planned pension reforms for his first term as president but had to row back on the idea, campaigning last year on a pledge to finish the job.
mm/msh (AFP, AP, Reuters)