The protests over pension reform are the most serious challenge to President Macron’s authority since the ‘yellow vest’ demonstrations in 2018.
Riot police clashed with protesters for a second night in Paris as demonstrations against government plans to raise the retirement age in France continue.
Mounting unrest since the start of the year, which has resulted in a wave of strikes and rubbish piling up on the streets of the French capital, has left President Emmanuel Macron facing the biggest challenge to his power since the so-called “Gilettes Jones”. Or the ‘yellow vest’ protests of December 2018.
Police fired tear gas on Friday night to deal with crowd disruption as protesters gathered on the Place de la Concorde, near the Assembly Nationale parliament building.
“Macron, quit!” Some protesters chanted as they stood in front of a line of riot police.
The protest on Paris’s elegant Place de la Concorde began in festive spirit as several thousand demonstrators cheered, danced and lit a huge bonfire. But it quickly became a scene echoing Thursday night when riot police attacked and used tear gas to empty the square as some demonstrators threw fireworks and pelted police with rocks.
On Thursday night, police also pointed batons at crowds and used water cannons while small groups then started street fires in neat neighborhoods nearby.
French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin told radio station RTL that 310 people were arrested overnight, most of them in Paris.
Sporadic protests were also held in cities across France – from a rally in Bordeaux to a massive rally in Toulouse.
Port officers at Calais temporarily stopped ferries from crossing the English Channel to Dover. Some university campuses in Paris were closed off and protesters occupied a traffic-packed ring road around the French capital.
Garbage collectors in Paris have extended their strike for a 12th day, as stinking piles of rubbish grow in the streets. The striking sanitation workers also continued to block Europe’s largest incineration site and two other garbage treatment sites from the capital.
Some yellow vest activists, who staged massive protests against Macron’s economic policies during his first term in office, were among those relaying the Paris protest on Friday on social media. Police say the “extreme yellow vests” are among the rioters at the protest marches.
The French are firmly tied to maintaining the official retirement age at 62, which is among the lowest in OECD countries.
The Macron administration has used a special constitutional power to push pension reforms that will, among other things, gradually raise the retirement age from 62 to 64.
An opinion poll conducted by Toluna Harris Interactive for RTL broadcaster showed that more than eight in ten French people are unhappy with the government’s decision to skip a vote in parliament on changing the retirement age, and that 65% want strikes and protests to continue.
Trade unions organizing opposition to the reforms urged the demonstrators to remain peaceful during more strikes and marches in the coming days. They also called on people to leave schools, factories, refineries and other workplaces to force Macron to abandon his plan to have the French work another two years, until 64, before receiving a full pension.
Left and center opposition deputies submitted a motion of no confidence in parliament on Friday afternoon. But even though Macron lost his outright majority in France’s lower house in last year’s election, there was little chance of that succeeding — unless a surprise coalition of lawmakers from all sides could be formed.
Going forward without a vote, said 52-year-old psychologist Nathalie Alquier in Paris, “is a denial of democracy … a complete denial of what has been happening in the streets for several weeks.”
“It is unbearable.”
Protests are planned for this weekend and a new day of nationwide industrial strike next Thursday. Teachers unions have called for a strike next week, which could disrupt the symbolic matriculation exams.
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