Violent protests in France over Macron’s retirement age push

March 17, 2023 GMT

PARIS (AP) — Angry protesters took to the streets in Paris and other cities for a second day on Friday, trying to pressure lawmakers to bring down French President Emmanuel Macron’s government and doom the unpopular retirement age increase he’s trying to impose without a vote in the National Assembly.

A day after Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne invoked a special constitutional power to skirt a vote in the chaotic lower chamber, lawmakers on the right and left filed no-confidence motions to be voted on Monday.

At the elegant Place de Concorde, a festive protest by several thousand, with chants, dancing and a huge bonfire, degenerated into a scene echoing the night before. Riot police charged and threw tear gas to empty the huge square across from the National Assembly after troublemakers climbed scaffolding on a renovation site, arming themselves with wood. They lobbed fireworks and paving stones at police in a standoff.

On Thursday night, security forces charged and used water cannons to evacuate the area, and small groups then set street fires in chic neighborhoods nearby. French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin told radio station RTL that 310 people were arrested overnight, most of them in Paris.

Mostly small, scattered protests were held in cities around France, from a march in Bordeaux to a rally in Toulouse. Port officers in Calais temporarily stopped ferries from crossing the English Channel to Dover. Some university campuses in Paris were blocked and protesters occupied a high-traffic ring road around the French capital.

Paris garbage collectors extended their strike for a 12th day, with piles of foul-smelling rubbish growing daily in the French capital. Striking sanitation workers continued to block Europe’s largest incineration site and two other sites that treat Paris garbage.

Some yellow vest activists, who mounted formidable protests against Macron’s economic policies during his first term, were among those who relayed Friday’s Paris protest on social media. Police say that “radicalized yellow vests” are among troublemakers at protest marches.

Trade unions organizing the opposition urged demonstrators to remain peaceful during more strikes and marches in the days ahead. They have called on people to leave schools, factories, refineries and other workplaces to force Macron to abandon his plan to make the French to work two more years, until 64, before receiving a full pension.

Macron took a calculated risk ordering Borne to invoke a special constitutional power that she had used 10 times before without triggering such an outpouring of anger.

If the no-confidence votes fail, the bill becomes law. If a majority agrees, it would spell the end of the retirement reform plan and force the government to resign, although Macron could always reappoint Borne to name the new Cabinet.

“We are not going to stop,” CGT union representative Régis Vieceli told The Associated Press on Friday. He said overwhelming the streets with discontent and refusing to continue working is “the only way that we will get them to back down.”

Macron has made the proposed pension changes the key priority of his second term, arguing that reform is needed to make the French economy more competitive and to keep the pension system from diving into deficit. France, like many richer nations, faces lower birth rates and longer life expectancy.

Macron’s conservative allies in the Senate passed the bill, but frantic counts of lower-house lawmakers Thursday showed a slight risk it would fall short of a majority, so Macron decided to invoke the constitution’s Article 49-3 to bypass a vote.

Getting a no-confidence motion to pass will be challenging — none have succeeded since 1962, and Macron’s centrist alliance still has the most seats in the National Assembly. A minority of conservatives could stray from the Republicans party line, but it remains to be seen whether they’re willing to bring down Macron’s government.

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Surk reported from Nice, France. Associated Press reporters Elaine Ganley, Alex Turnbull and Nicolas Garriga in Paris contributed to this report.