Nationwide protests in France after Macron doubles down on pension bill

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Protesters gather during a demonstration after the pension reform was adopted as the French Parliament rejected two motions of no-confidence against the government, in Paris, France, March 22, 2023. REUTERS/Nacho Doce

 Train services were disrupted and some schools shut while garbage piled up on the streets of France on Thursday as part of a ninth nationwide day of strikes against a deeply unpopular bill to raise the pension age.

Protesters blocked a highway near Toulouse in southwestern France in the early morning and a bus depot in the west, in Rennes, Le Parisien newspaper said. Protest rallies were scheduled across the country later in the day.

President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday said the legislation – which his government pushed through parliament without a vote last week – would come into force by year-end despite escalating anger across the country.

“The best response we can give the president is that there are millions of people on strike and in the streets,” said Philippe Martinez, who leads the hardline CGT union.

Protests against the policy changes, which lift the retirement age by two years to 64 and accelerate an increase in the number of years one must work to draw a full pension, have drawn huge crowds in rallies organised by unions since January.

Most protests have been peaceful, but anger has mounted since the government pushed the bill through parliament without a vote last week.

The past seven nights have seen spontaneous demonstrations in Paris and other cities with rubbish bins set ablaze and scuffles with police.

Labour unions said Thursday’s day of strikes and protests would draw huge crowds against what they described as Macron’s “scorn” and “lies.”

Laurent Berger, the head of France’s biggest union, the moderate CFDT, told BFM TV the government must withdraw the pension law.

The latest wave of protests represents the most serious challenge to the president’s authority since the “Yellow Vest” revolt four years ago. Polls show a wide majority of French opposed to the pension legislation as well as the government’s decision to push it through parliament without a vote.

Labour Minister Olivier Dussopt said the government was not in denial about the tensions but wanted to move on.

“There is a disagreement that will persist on the retirement age. On the other hand, there are many subjects which make it possible to renew a dialogue,” he said, including how companies share their profits with workers.

“Things will be done gradually,” he said.

Electricity power supply was reduced on Thursday as part of rolling strikes in the sector.

The government has renewed a requisition order requiring some employees to return to work at the Fos-sur-Mer fuel depot in southern France to secure petrol supplies for the region.

SOURCE: REUTERS

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