Police clash with demonstrators at Paris


French gendarmes and CRS riot police stand a position near a fire as demonstrators gather on Place de la Concorde near the National Assembly to protest after French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne delivered a speech to announce to push the pensions reform bill. — Reuters.
French gendarmes and CRS riot police stand a position near a fire as demonstrators gather on Place de la Concorde near the National Assembly to protest after French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne delivered a speech to announce to push the pensions reform bill. — Reuters.
  • Violence breaks out at Friday night Paris protest.
  • Unions plan more strikes, protests.
  • Opposition plans no-confidence vote.

PARIS: Riot police clashed with protesters on Friday evening in Paris as a new demonstration took place against the government’s plans to raise the French state pension age.

The growing unrest, which has resulted in a wave of strikes since the start of the year and rubbish piling up on the streets of Paris, has left President Emmanuel Macron with the gravest challenge to his authority since the so-called ‘Gilets Jaunes’ or ‘Yellow Vest’ protests of December 2018.

Protesters hold a barricade as they attend a demonstration in front of the National Assembly on Place de la Concorde to protest the use by the French government to push the pensions reform bill through the National Assembly without a vote by lawmakers, in Paris, France on March 17, 2023. — Reuters
Protesters hold a barricade as they attend a demonstration in front of the National Assembly on Place de la Concorde to protest the use by the French government to push the pensions reform bill through the National Assembly without a vote by lawmakers, in Paris, France on March 17, 2023. — Reuters

Reuters TV broadcast images of tear gas used by police to deal with crowd disorder as protesters gathered in Paris’ Place de la Concorde, near the Assemblee Nationale parliament building.

“Macron, Resign!” chanted some demonstrators, as they squared up to a line of riot police.

Friday’s night trouble followed similar disorder on Thursday after Macron decided to push through the contested pension overhaul without a parliamentary vote.

Demonstrators take cover behind umbrellas as they gather in Nantes to protest after French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne. — Reuters
Demonstrators take cover behind umbrellas as they gather in Nantes to protest after French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne. — Reuters

The overhaul raises France’s state pension age by two years to 64, which the government says is essential to ensure the system does not go bust.

Unions, and most voters, disagree.

The French are deeply attached to keeping the official retirement age at 62, which is among the lowest in OECD countries.

More than eight out of 10 people are unhappy with the government’s decision to skip a vote in parliament, and 65% want strikes and protests to continue, a Toluna Harris Interactive poll for RTL radio showed.

Going ahead without a vote “is a denial of democracy … a total denial of what has been happening in the streets for several weeks”, 52-year-old psychologist Nathalie Alquier said in Paris. “It’s just unbearable.”

A broad alliance of France’s main unions said they would continue their mobilisation to try and force a U-turn on the changes. Protests are planned for this weekend, with a new day of nationwide industrial action scheduled for Thursday.

Demonstrators take part in a protest against the pensions reform bill in Nantes, France on March 16, 2023. — Reuters
Demonstrators take part in a protest against the pensions reform bill in Nantes, France on March 16, 2023. — Reuters

Teachers’ unions called for strikes next week, which could disrupt the emblematic Baccalaureate high-school exams.

While eight days of nationwide protests since mid-January, and many more local industrial actions, had been largely peaceful, the unrest on Thursday and Friday was reminiscent of the Yellow Vest protests in late 2018 over high fuel prices, which forced Macron into a partial U-turn on a carbon tax.

Political Opposition against pension reform

Left-wing and centrist opposition lawmakers filed a motion of no-confidence in parliament on Friday afternoon.

But even though Macron lost his absolute majority in the lower house of parliament in elections last year, there was little chance this would go through — unless a surprise alliance of lawmakers from all sides is formed, from the far-left to the far-right.

The leaders of the conservative Les Republicains (LR) party have ruled out such an alliance. None of them had sponsored the first motion of no confidence filed on Friday. The far-right was expected to file another later in the day.

Demonstrators take part in a protest against the pensions reform bill in Nantes, France on March 16, 2023. — Reuters
Demonstrators take part in a protest against the pensions reform bill in Nantes, France on March 16, 2023. — Reuters

Individual LR lawmakers have said they could break ranks, but the no-confidence bill would require all of the other opposition lawmakers and half of LR’s 61 lawmakers to go through, which is a tall order.

“So far, French governments have usually won in such votes of no confidence,” said Berenberg chief economist Holger Schmieding.

He expected it would be the same again this time even if “by trying to bypass parliament, Macron has already weakened his position”.

Votes in parliament were likely to take place over the weekend or on Monday.

Macron will want to turn the page quickly, with government officials already preparing more socially minded reforms. He can also choose, at some point, to fire Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne, who has been at the forefront of the pension debate.

But either or both moves may do little to quell anger on the streets. Neither of them had made public comments on Friday.



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