Protests break out in France over Macron’s raising of the retirement age without parliament

Protests against French President Emmanuel Macron’s decision to force a bill to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64 without a vote in parliament disrupted traffic, garbage collection and university campuses in Paris as opponents of the change became determined stayed to get the government back.

Striking cleaners blocked a waste collection facility that houses Europe’s largest incinerator to show their determination, and university students poured out of lecture halls to join the strikes.

Leaders of the influential trade union CGT called on people to leave schools, factories, refineries and other workplaces.

Several groups, including the yellow vest activists who had staged formidable protests against Macron’s economic policies during his first term, called on the president’s opponents to march on parliament at 6 p.m. local time (5 p.m. GMT) on Friday.

Yellow vest activists at the march to parliament on Friday, March 16.
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French protests
Protesters at Concorde Square in Paris set fire to rubbish after a demonstration last night.

A passerby drives past wreckage set on fire by protesters in Paris.
AFP via Getty Images

Union leaders weren’t the only ones angered by Macron’s plan to allow French citizens to work for another two years before they qualify for a full pension.

Opposition parties would later start procedures on Friday for a vote of no confidence against the government led by Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne.

The vote is likely to take place early next week.

Macron on Thursday ordered Borne to use a special constitutional power to push through the deeply unpopular pension law without a vote in the National Assembly, France’s lower house.

Police officers during the march to parliament on Friday night.
Police officers react during the march on parliament on Friday evening.
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Excited citizens cause chaos in the streets of Paris over the pension account.
AFP via Getty Images

His calculated risk enraged opposition lawmakers, many citizens and unions. Thousands gathered on Thursday to protest in the Place de la Concorde, opposite the National Assembly building.

As night fell, police officers attacked the demonstrators in waves to clear the square. Small groups roamed nearby streets in the posh Champs-Elysees district, setting street fires.

Similar scenes were repeated in numerous other cities, from Rennes and Nantes in eastern France to Lyon and the southern port city of Marseille, where shop windows and bank fronts were smashed, according to French media.

French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin told radio station RTL on Friday that 310 people were arrested overnight. Most of the arrests, 258, were made in Paris, according to Darmanin.

French protests
Municipal workers block the entrance to a waste incarnation factory in Paris after protests over Macron’s decision.

The unions that had organized strikes and demonstrations against a higher retirement age said more demonstrations and protest marches would take place in the coming days.

“This pension reform is ruthless, unfair and unjustified to the working-class world,” they declared.

Overwhelming the streets with discontent and refusing to continue working is “the only way we can get them back,” CGT union representative Régis Vieceli told the Associated Press on Friday. He added: “We’re not going to stop.”

Protesters hide behind umbrellas as they set off flares.
AFP via Getty Images

Macron has made proposed pension changes the top priority of his second term, arguing that reforms are needed to make France’s economy more competitive and prevent the pension system from plunging into deficit.

France, like many wealthier countries, is experiencing lower birth rates and higher life expectancy.

Macron decided to invoke the special power at a cabinet meeting minutes before a scheduled vote in the National Assembly, where the legislation failed to guarantee majority support. The Senate passed the bill earlier Thursday.

Opposition lawmakers demanded that the government resign. If the expected no-confidence motion fails, the pension law is considered passed. If passed, it would also spell the end of Macron’s pension reform plan and force the government to resign, a first since 1962.

Macron could reappoint Borne if he wanted to, and a new cabinet would be appointed.

Macron’s centrist alliance has the most seats in the National Assembly, where a no-confidence motion also requires the support of a majority.

Left-wing and far-right lawmakers are determined to vote in favour.

Republican leaders have said their conservative party will not support the motion. While some party legislators may deviate from that view, they are expected to be a minority.

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