Macron delays King’s visit amid massive demonstrations

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A planned state visit to France by the King has been postponed amid continuing unrest across the country and calls for a new round of demonstrations against President Emmanuel Macron’s pension legislation.

While a clear disappointment to the royal palace, the decision is also a bad sign for Mr Macron.

The president, 45, is increasingly detested by protesters and contested in parliament, and seen as oblivious to France’s souring mood as he sticks to his positions. That is now hurting his global image too.

Charles had been scheduled to arrive in France on Sunday to celebrate France and Britain’s renewed friendship.

France Pensions
Riot police watch smoke rising from burning tyres at the entrance of a blocked oil depot in Fos-sur-Mer (Daniel Cole/AP)

Violence soared during Thursday’s ninth union-organised nationwide marches. More than 450 protesters were arrested in Paris and beyond, and hundreds of police and demonstrators were injured, as gatherings drew more than a million people.

There were scattered protests on Friday. Trains were slowed, rows of lorries blocked access to Marseille’s port for several hours and rubbish littered the streets of Paris.

Mr Macron has made the proposed pension changes the priority of his second term, saying they are needed to keep the pension system from diving into deficit as France, like many richer nations, faces lower birth rates and longer life expectancy.

Anger over the changes has increasingly turned into broader opposition to his leadership. His insistence this week that the retirement measure be implemented by the end of the year prompted critics to describe him as “self-satisfied” and “out of touch”.

France Pension Protests
Protesters scuffle with riot police during a rally in Nantes (Jeremias Gonzalez/AP)

They included making it easier to hire and fire workers, cutting business taxes, and making it more difficult for the unemployed to claim benefits.

Critics say the changes fray a social safety net seen as central to France’s way of life.

Countries across Europe have been raising pension ages. Retirement rules vary widely from country to country, making direct comparisons difficult.

Mr Macron’s plan involves multiple adjustments to France’s complex pension system. It would also require French people to work 43 years to earn a full pension, or wait until they turn 67, as the law now calls for.

France Pension Protests
Protesters run amid the tear gas during a demonstration in Lyon (Laurent Cipriani/AP)

The government refused to consider those, however, and forced the bill through parliament last week, using a constitutional power, and the text is now being reviewed by France’s Constitutional Council. The forced passage further angered Mr Macron’s critics.

Macron condemned the violent behaviour at some protests, saying “violence has no place in a democracy”.

He said “common sense and friendship” required delaying the King’s visit, saying that it could have become a protest target, creating a “detestable situation”.

It would not be reasonable “to hold a state visit in the middle of protests”, he told a news conference after a summit in Brussels.

France Pensions
A protester holds a placard that reads ’empty fridge violence of desperation’ during a rally in Paris (Christophe Ena/AP)

Charles and the Queen Consort planned to visit both France and Germany during his first trip abroad as King. He still plans to go to Germany.

Charles had been scheduled to visit the city of Bordeaux on Tuesday, coinciding with the tenth round of nationwide strikes and protests.

The heavy wooden door of the elegant Bordeaux City Hall was destroyed by fire on Thursday during an unauthorised demonstration.

French authorities have blamed radicals for the protests . But the Council of Europe, the International Federation of Human Rights and media watchdog Reporters Without Borders raised concerns on Friday about violence by police against what has been a largely peaceful movement.

France Pensions
A protester throws a stone as he scuffles with riot police during a demonstration in Lyon (Laurent Cipriani/AP)

He added that 1,000 rubbish bins were set on fire in the French capital; overflowing bins have become a symbol of the protests during a weeks-long strike by sanitation workers.

Fires in Paris that were intentionally lit in narrow or inaccessible alleys on Thursday alarmed both city officials and residents.

Firefighters and residents worked to tame the flames that rose to the second story of an apartment building in the chic Palais Royal area.

Oil refineries have been another target. On Friday, emboldened protesters blockaded the Fos-sur-Mer oil depot near Marseille to stop lorries from entering and leaving.

However, fuel supplies to Paris from the large Gonfreville-L’Orcher refinery in Normandy resumed after police intervened.

Fearing disruptions in coming days, France’s Civil Aviation Authority requested the cancellation of one third of flights at Paris’ second airport, Orly, on Sunday, and 20% on Monday.

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