French protest over Macron forcing through pension reform

French protest over Macron forcing through pension reform
Protesters gather during a demonstration on Place de la Concorde in Paris / AFP


People took to the streets across France on Saturday after President Emmanuel Macron imposed an unpopular pension overhaul without a parliament vote.

Macron's government on Thursday invoked a controversial executive power to force through the bill by decree, which is legal according to the constitution.

The move has caused outrage among the political class as well as angry protests on the streets, presenting the 45-year-old leader with one of his biggest challenges less than a year into his second and final mandate.

The president has made no public comments since the bill to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64 was forced through.

A source within his circle however told AFP on Saturday evening that he was "following developments".

Police on Saturday banned gatherings on a key Paris square opposite parliament after two nights of unrest at the site.

But thousands of protesters rallied in another part of the capital, some erecting barricades in the street, setting rubbish bins on fire and smashing advertising boards, an AFP journalist saw.

Security forces charged at the demonstrators and fired tear gas and water cannon at Place d'Italie. A police source said officers had arrested 81 people at or near the location.


- 'Fed up' -


There were protests in other towns and cities around the country Saturday after regional unions called for a weekend of demonstrations.

Ariane Laget, 36, was among around 200 people demonstrating in the small southern town of Lodeve.

"We're fed up," she said. "We feel like we're being trampled on, and no one is listening."

Thousands took to the streets in the western city of Nantes.

"Death to the king," read one placard, in an apparent reference to the president.

Some protesters lobbed bottles at members of the security forces who retaliated with tear gas, an AFP photographer said.

In the southwestern city of Bordeaux, an AFP photographer saw trash containers ablaze.

Unions have called for another day of nationwide strikes and rallies on Thursday.

Opinion polls suggest around two-thirds of French people oppose the reform, which will also require people to work longer for a full pension.

Macron's popularity has also plummeted to 28 percent, according to a poll published Sunday by the Journal du Dimanche -- the lowest since the so-called "Yellow Vests" movement in 2019.

Seventy percent of respondents from a survey of more than 1,900 people during a two-week period in March -- which ended right before the government pushed through the reform on Thursday -- say they are dissatisfied with Macron.

The government has said it is necessary to keep the system from slipping into deficit and to bring France in line with its European neighbours, where the legal retirement age is typically higher.

But critics say the changes are unfair for people who start working at a young age in physically challenging jobs, and for women who interrupt their careers to raise children.


- No-confidence vote -


In parliament, opposition lawmakers have filed two motions of no confidence in the government, which are to be debated on Monday afternoon according to parliamentary sources.

They hope to garner enough support to topple the government and repeal the law.

But Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne's government is largely expected to survive any no-confidence vote.

The motion would need backing from around half the group of opposition right-wing Republicans, a scenario seen as highly improbable.

Saturday's protests follow two previous nights of unrest.

Thousands of people rallied in Place de la Concorde opposite parliament on Friday evening to vent their frustration.

Groups of people threw bottles and fireworks at the security forces, who responded by firing tear gas to try to clear the square. Police said they made 61 arrests.

In the eastern city of Lyon, demonstrators tried to break into a town hall and set fire to the building, said police, who reported 36 arrests.


- Trash strike -


Protests since mid-January have garnered some of the largest crowds in decades, but the popular movement seemed to be starting to wane in the days before the government imposed the bill.

The capital's municipal rubbish collectors have however kept up a rolling strike, leaving an estimated 10,000 tonnes of trash festering in the streets by Friday.

A union representative on Saturday said strikers at three incinerators outside Paris would let some garbage trucks through "to limit the risk of an epidemic".

Police said trucks from five depots had resumed work.

In the energy sector, the CGT union has said strikers were halting production at two refineries over the weekend.

Unions from national train operator SNCF on Friday urged workers to maintain another continuous strike.

Macron put the pension reform at the centre of his re-election campaign last year.

But the former banker lost his parliamentary majority in June after elections for the National Assembly.