In France, some protests against increased retirement age turn violent

A terrifying scene of protests against President Emmanuel Macron’s plan To raise France’s retirement age 62 to 64 took place in Paris and beyond on Saturday, as uncollected garbage piled up on the streets of the French capital during a strike by sanitation workers.

Large non-violent demonstrations were held in various cities, including Nantes and Marseille, where protesters outmaneuvered police to occupy the main train station for about 15 minutes. In the eastern city of Besançon, hundreds of protesters lit braziers and burned voter cards.

In Paris, an eerie calm returned to much of the French capital after two straight nights of unrest. Police banned gatherings on the Champs-Elysées avenue and the elegant Place de la Concorde, where protesters threw an effigy of Macron into a bonfire as crowds cheered on Friday night.

Demonstration in front of the French National Assembly
Protesters gather in front of the National Assembly in Paris, France, before the French government pushes pension reforms through parliament without a vote. March 16, 2023.

Michelle Stopak via Getty Images

Several thousand protesters gathered in a public square in south Paris, Place d’Italie, on Saturday evening, where some set trash cans on fire.

Protesters are trying to pressure lawmakers to topple Macron’s government and scrap an unpopular increase in the retirement age that they are trying to implement without a vote in the National Assembly.

Lawmakers on the right and left filed no-confidence motions against her cabinet on Friday, after Prime Minister Elizabeth Bourne invoked special constitutional powers to vote in a fractious lower house. Voting on these motions is expected on Monday.

Some Parisians who were out buying their weekend baguettes blamed Macron’s administration for the fumes rising from garbage near a bakery in the city’s 12th arrondissement.

“The government should change its position and listen to the people because what is happening is very serious. And we are seeing a radicalization,” said 64-year-old psychologist Isabel Vergaretti. “The government is largely responsible for this.”

The district’s mayor, Emmanuelle-Pierre Marie, was concerned about the consequences of the trash piling up in her neighborhood, which has become a visible and ugly symbol of the president’s efforts to defeat the pension reform plan.

“Food waste is our priority because it’s what brings insects to the surface,” said Pierre-Marie. “We are very sensitive to the situation. As soon as we have a dumpster truck available, we prioritize the most relevant locations, such as food markets.”

More labor strikes were planned for Monday in a number of sectors, from transport to energy. The civil aviation authority asked to cancel 30% of flights at Orly, Paris’ second airport, and 20% at Marseille.

The trade union confederation CGT has warned that at least two oil refineries could be closed from Monday. Industry Minister Roland Lescore said the government could call in officials – ordering workers back to their posts – to avoid fuel shortages.

Macron has argued that people in France need to work two more years to bolster the country’s economy and prevent its pension system from collapsing as the population ages.

Laurent Berger, head of the moderate CFDT union, said the retirement reform “must be withdrawn.”

“We condemn the violence. … But look at the anger. It is very strong, even in our ranks,” he said on RMC radio.

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