French anger spreads after Macron forces pension age rise

Strikes escalate and MPs call for protection as interior minister warns protesters against wreaking havoc

Refinery strikes have escalated in France as the interior minister spoke of protesters wreaking havoc across the country and some MPs called for police protection, amid anger at the government pushing through a rise in the pension age without a parliamentary vote.

More than 300 people were arrested across France overnight during spontaneous protests against Emmanuel Macron’s decision to bypass parliament and force through his unpopular pensions changes, including raising the eligible age from 62 to 64.

Macron instructed the prime minister, Élisabeth Borne, to invoke article 49.3 of the constitution, which allows the government to adopt a bill without a parliamentary vote, because he said there was too much economic risk to the country if MPs voted against the bill.

As opposition politicians accused the government of a brutal and undemocratic approach, demonstrators gathered in cities such as Paris and Rennes and smaller towns such as Laval and Évreux. About 200 protesters briefly blocked traffic on the Paris ring road early on Friday morning. In Bordeaux, dozens of protesters stood on the tracks at the main train station.

In the energy sector, strikers voted to halt production at one of the country’s largest refineries by this weekend or Monday at the latest, a representative of the CGT union said. Workers had already been on a rolling strike at the northern site TotalEnergies de Normandie, and halting production would escalate the industrial action and spark fears of fuel shortages. Strikers continued to deliver less fuel than normal from several other sites.

A bin collectors’ strike in Paris continued, as more than 10,000 tonnes of waste piled up in streets across half of the city. A further day of coordinated strike action by transport workers and teachers will take place next Thursday. Some teachers’ unions suggested supervisors should also strike early next week when high school students begin baccalaureate exams.

A cyclist riding past piles of rubbish in Paris’s 2nd district.
A cyclist riding past piles of rubbish in Paris’s 2nd district. Photograph: Bertrand Guay/AFP/Getty Images

The interior minister, Gérald Darmanin, warned against what he called the chaos of random, spontaneous street demonstrations. Amid the protests, 310 people were arrested overnight, including 258 in Paris, he told RTL radio.

“The opposition is legitimate, the protests are legitimate, but wreaking havoc is not,” Darmanin said. He complained of “very difficult demonstrations” and denounced the fact that effigies of Macron, Borne and other ministers were burned at a protest in Dijon. He said public buildings had been targeted.

Late on Thursday night in Paris, some people started fires on side streets and caused damage to shop fronts after police used teargas and water cannon to clear hundreds of protesters who had gathered as a fire was lit in the centre of Place de la Concorde. By 11.30pm, 217 people had been arrested on suspicion of seeking to cause damage, Paris police said.

Protesters stand around burning barriers during a demonstration on Place de la Concorde.
Protesters standing around burning barriers during a demonstration on Place de la Concorde on Thursday. Photograph: Thomas Samson/AFP/Getty Images

The head of Macron’s centrist Renaissance party in parliament, Aurore Bergé, wrote to Darmanin asking him to ensure the protection of MPs who feared violence against them. She said she would not accept MPs living in “fear of reprisals”. The interior minister replied to say police would be vigilant against any violence directed towards lawmakers.

Macron’s plan to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64 was passed by the surprise, last-minute use of a special constitutional power after two months of coordinated nationwide strikes and some of the biggest protests in decades. The government took the decision after it feared it could not secure a majority of MPs to vote in favour.

Unions immediately called for another day of mass strikes and protests for next Thursday, calling the government’s move “a complete denial of democracy”.

Opposition parties will call a vote of no confidence in the government, which is likely to be held on Monday. For it to pass, it would require large numbers of MPs from the rightwing party Les Républicains to back it. The party has said it will not do so, and the government has so far survived all attempted no-confidence votes in recent months.

Macron was severely undermined in the national assembly after his centrist grouping failed to win an absolute majority in parliamentary elections last June amid gains for the far right and radical left.

Without a majority, Macron needed to rely on lawmakers from Les Républicains to back his pensions changes. But despite weeks of negotiations with Borne, the numbers did not add up, and the president decided not to risk a vote.


Angelique Chrisafis in Paris

The GuardianTramp

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