French pension reform: Over 800,000 protesters in Paris

French pension reform: Over 800,000 protesters in Paris
Protesters hold a banner which reads "On strike until retirement". Credit: Belga

Despite an attempt by French President Emmanuel Macron to calm the widespread anger about the controversial pension reform, hundreds of thousands of people are taking to the streets across the country. Some 800,000 demonstrators are currently gathered in Paris.

Thursday (today) is the ninth day of protests and unions have mobilised en masse against the reform which will raise the pension age in France from 62 today to 64.

Protesters are "determined," Marie Buisson of the General Confederation of Labour (CGT) union said on French radio on Thursday morning. "Since the [law] was passed by force there is anger. Our objective is for the maximum number of people to strike."

Over 200 protests across France

Last Thursday (16 March), the French government forced through the controversial pension reform bill without a vote by MPs. To do so, it invoked Article 49.3 of the French Constitution – a tool which allows the government to bypass a parliamentary vote. This sparked a vote of no confidence in Parliament, but this failed and the proposal passed.

Despite Macron's government surviving the vote with a margin of just nine votes,  protestors have taken to the streets for over a week now. On Thursday, access to universities, colleges and oil depots across the country was blocked. 15% of the service stations in France now have at least one fuel out of stock, and trains and flights have been cancelled, BFMTV reports.

About 800,000 people took part in the main protest march in Paris, according to figures from the CGT trade union. Shops, banks and businesses were boarded up along the route from the symbolic Place de la Bastille to the opera house early in the morning, and a large police force was present throughout the day.

In the west of France, there have been confrontations between demonstrators and the French security forces. In the city of Nantes, protesters broke into an administrative court, which resulted in broken windows and doors. Firefighters managed to quickly extinguish a small fire in a courtroom.

In Lorient (Brittany), the commissariat and the security services were attacked by demonstrators; in Rennes riots even broke out on the fringes of the demonstration, resulting in clashes between police and masked people, who reportedly pelted the officers with whatever they could find, and set rubbish bins on fire. The police responded with tear gas.

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The demonstrations are part of the more than 200 protests across France that the police were notified of.

Macron’s appearance on French television on Wednesday galvanised the protestors, as he acknowledged that the protests were "legitimate" but added that they would not lead to a U-turn on the decision. He was accused of showing "contempt and arrogance".

During the 30-minute interview, Macron ruled out the dissolution of parliament or a reshuffle of his centrist government that would see Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne stand down. He regretted not having "succeeded in convincing people of the necessity of this reform."

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