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Sunday March 03, 2024

France bans pension protests opposite parliament

Peaceful marches however got underway in other parts of country after government invoked controversial executive power to force through the bill by decreee

By AFP
March 18, 2023
In this file photograph taken on March 17, 2023, police officers block access to the French National Assembly building during a demonstration on Place de la Concorde in Paris. — AFP
In this file photograph taken on March 17, 2023, police officers block access to the French National Assembly building during a demonstration on Place de la Concorde in Paris. — AFP

PARIS: France on Saturday banned protests opposite parliament after a second night of unrest sparked by President Emmanuel Macron imposing an unpopular pension overhaul without a parliament vote.

Peaceful marches however got underway in other parts of the country after Macron’s government on Thursday invoked a controversial executive power to force through the bill by decree.

The move has caused outrage among the political class as well as angry protests in the street, presenting the 45-year-old leader with one of his biggest challenges less than a year into his second and final mandate.

Opposition lawmakers have filed two motions of no confidence in the government, which are to be debated in parliament on Monday afternoon according to parliamentary sources.

They hope to garner enough support to topple the cabinet and repeal the law to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64.

Paris police on Saturday banned crowds at the capital’s Place de la Concorde across the Seine river from parliament, after spontaneous gatherings there the two previous nights led to clashes between some demonstrators and security forces.

It said it was doing so "due to serious risks of disturbances to public order".

But people marched in towns and cities around the country after regional unions called for a weekend of protests.

Ariane Laget, 36, was among some 200 people demonstrating in the small southern town of Lodeve.

"We’re fed up. We feel like we’re being trampled on and no one is listening," she said.

Large crowds also took to the streets in the western city of Nantes.

"Death to the king," read one placard, in an apparent reference to the president.

Unions have called for another day of nationwide strikes and rallies on Thursday.

Overnight unrest

Thousands of people rallied in Place de la Concorde on Friday to vent their frustration at the government imposing the reform, despite two months of strikes and demonstrations against the change.

Groups of people threw bottles and fireworks at the security forces, who responded by firing tear gas to try to clear the square. Police said they made 61 arrests.

In the southeastern city of Lyon, demonstrators tried to break into a town hall and set fire to the building, said police, who reported 36 arrests.

Opinion polls have shown around two-thirds of French people oppose the reform, which is also to require people to work longer for a full pension.

The government has said it is necessary to avoid the system from slipping into deficit, and bring France in line with its European neighbours where the legal retirement age is typically higher.

But critics say the changes are unfair for people who start working at a young age in physically tough jobs, and women who interrupt their careers to raise children.

Trash strike

Protests since mid-January have garnered some of the largest crowds in decades, but the popular movement seemed to be starting to wane in the days before the government imposed the bill.

The capital’s municipal rubbish collectors have however kept up a rolling strike, leaving an estimated 10,000 tonnes of trash festering in the streets by Friday.

A union representative however on Saturday said that strikers at three incinerators outside Paris would let some garbage trucks through "to limit the risk of an epidemic".

Police said trucks from five depots had resumed work.

In the energy sector, the CGT union has said strikers would halt production at two refineries by this weekend or Monday at the latest.

Unions from national train operator SNCF on Friday urged workers to continue another continuous strike that has caused major disruption on the network.

Macron put the pension reform at the centre of his re-election campaign last year.

But the former banker lost his parliamentary majority in June after elections for the National Assembly.

The government used the controversial article 49.3 of the constitution on Thursday as it feared not having enough backing in the lower house to win a vote on the pensions bill.

But Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne’s cabinet is largely expected to survive any no-confidence vote.

The motion would need backing from around half the group of opposition right-wing Republicans, a scenario seen as highly improbable.