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Protesters scuffle with riot police during a rally in Paris. Alamy Stock Photo

Violence erupts as thousands protest across France over Macron pension reform

The country’s interior minister said 123 members of the security forces had been injured and at least 80 people arrested.

PROTESTERS HAVE CLASHED with French security forces in the most serious violence yet of a three-month revolt against President Emmanuel Macron’s hugely controversial pension reform.

Dozens of police were injured, and dozens of protesters arrested nationwide, the government said, as a day of protests descended into violence in several cities including Paris, where protesters lit fires in the historic centre of the city.

The uproar over the imposition of the reform – which the government chose to push through without a parliamentary vote – has turned into the biggest domestic crisis of Macron’s second term in office.

It also threatens to cast a shadow over next week’s visit to France of Britain’s King Charles III, the first foreign visit he has made as monarch. Unions have announced fresh strikes and protests for Tuesday, the second full day of his visit.

The numbers in Paris and other cities were higher than in previous protest days, the protests given new momentum by Macron’s refusal in a TV interview yesterday to back down on the reform.

Police and protesters again clashed on the streets of the capital during a major demonstration, security forces firing tear gas and charging crowds with batons.

Some protesters lit fires in the street, setting ablaze pallets and piles of uncollected rubbish, prompting firefighters to intervene, AFP correspondents said.

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said that, across France, 123 members of the security forces had been injured and at least 80 people arrested.

julien-mattia-le-pictorium-demonstration-on-23-march-against-the-pension-reform-in-paris-2332023-france-paris-paris-fires-in-paris-during-the-march-23-demonstration-against-pen Fires in Paris during the demonstration against pension reform. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

Some 1.089 million protesters took part in demonstrations across France, the interior ministry said, putting the Paris turnout at 119,000, the highest for the capital since the movement started in January.

The nationwide figure still fell short of the 1.28 million people who marched on 7 March, according to the government figures.

Unions claimed a record 3.5 million people had protested across France, and 800,000 in the capital.

Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said the violence seen during the nationwide protests was “unacceptable”.

“It is a right to demonstrate and make your disagreements known,” she said on Twitter, but added: “The violence and destruction that we have seen today are unacceptable.”

‘Until the end’

In Paris, several hundred black-clad radical demonstrators were breaking windows of banks, shops and fast-food outlets, and destroying street furniture, AFP journalists witnessed.

An AFP journalist saw paramedics treating one injured demonstrator.

The garbage that has accumulated in the streets due to strikes by refuse collectors proved an appealing target, protesters setting fire to the trash piled up in the city centre.

Unions again appealed for peaceful protests. “We need to keep public opinion on side until the end,” said Laurent Berger, leader of the moderate CFDT.

Protesters briefly occupied the tracks at the Gare de Lyon train station in Paris, and some blocked access to Charles de Gaulle airport.

Half of France’s high-speed train services were cancelled, and the streets of Paris are still choked with rubbish because of strike action by garbage collectors.

a-protester-throws-a-tear-gas-canister-as-he-scuffles-with-riot-police-during-a-rally-in-paris-thursday-march-23-2023-french-unions-are-holding-their-first-mass-demonstrations-thursday-since-presi A protester throws a tear gas canister as he scuffles with riot police during a rally in Paris. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

Anger surged after a defiant Macron said yesterday he was prepared to accept unpopularity over the pensions reform which he said was “necessary”.

Even before then, a survey on Sunday showed Macron’s personal approval rating at just 28%, its lowest since the anti-government “Yellow Vest” protest movement in 2018-2019.

‘Excessive force’

Acting on Macron’s instructions, Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne last week invoked an article in the constitution to adopt the reform without a parliamentary vote. That sparked two no-confidence motions in parliament, which she survived – but one by a narrow margin.

Today’s protests were the latest in a string of nationwide stoppages that began in mid-January against the pension changes.

The ministry of energy transition has warned that kerosene supply to the capital and its airports was becoming “critical” as blockages at oil refineries continued.

Since the government imposed the reform last Thursday, nightly demonstrations have taken place across France, with young people coordinating their actions on encrypted messaging services.

There have been hundreds of arrests and accusations of heavy-handed tactics by police.

Amnesty International has expressed alarm “about the widespread use of excessive force and arbitrary arrests reported in several media outlets”.

Macron said yesterday that the pensions changes needed to “come into force by the end of the year”.

Backtracking on earlier comments that the crowds demonstrating had “no legitimacy”, he said organised protests were “legitimate”, but violence should be condemned and blockages should not impede normal activity.

French public sector trade unionists have warned they will not provide red carpets during the visit, but non-striking workers are expected to roll them out.

© AFP 2023 

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