New protests in France over Macron plan to raise pension age

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Protesters opposing President Emmanuel Macron’s unpopular plan to raise the retirement age to 64 marched in cities and towns around France on Thursday, in a final show of anger before a decision on whether the measure meets constitutional standards.

In Paris, as thousands marched along the designated protest route, some protesters holding lit flares veered off to the Constitutional Council, which is to decide on Friday whether to reject any or all parts of the legislation.

The rubbish piles were cleaned up but signalled the start of a new strike by waste collectors, timed to begin with the nationwide protest marches.

A previous strike last month left the streets of the French capital filled for days with mounds of reeking refuse.

APTOPIX France Pension Protests
Youths scuffle with police forces in front of the Paris town hall during the demonstrations (Lewis Joly/AP/PA)

Fabien Villedieu of the Sud-Rail Union said LVMH “could reduce all the holes” in France’s social security system.

He said: “So one of the solutions to finance the pension system is a better redistribution of wealth, and the best way to do that is to tax the billionaires.”

France Pension Protests
A protester in a wheelchair faces riot police officers during a demonstration in Lille, northern France (Michel Spingler/AP/PA)

Early on in the main Paris protest, security forces intervened to stop vandals damaging a shop, with 15 people detained, police said. As in past protests, several hundred “radical elements” had mixed inside the march, police said.

Thousands also marched in Toulouse, Marseille and elsewhere. Tensions mounted at protests in Brittany, notably in Nantes and Rennes, where a car was burned.

France Pension Protests
Protesters march through Lille in protest at President Emmanuel Macron’s unpopular plan to raise the retirement age in France (Michel Spingler/AP/PA)

“As long as this reform isn’t withdrawn, the mobilisation will continue in one form or another.”

CGT has been a backbone of the protest and strike movement challenging Macron’s plan to increase France’s retirement age from 62 to 64. Eight unions have organised protests since January in a rare show of unity. Student unions have joined in.

Mr Macron had initially refused a demand to meet unions, but during a state visit on Wednesday to the Netherlands proposed “an exchange” to discuss the follow-up to the Constitutional Council decision. There was no formal response to his offer.

France Pension Protests
Police use tear gas as protesters take to the streets in Paris (Thibault Camus/AP/PA)

Critics challenged the government’s choice to include the pension plan in a budget bill, which significantly accelerated the legislative process. The government’s decision to skirt a parliamentary vote by using special constitutional powers angered opponents.

Polls consistently show a majority of French people are opposed to the pension reform.

“The contention is strong, anchored in the people,” said Laurent Berger, head of the moderate CFDT union. If the measure is promulgated, “there will be repercussions,” he warned, noting the “silent anger” among the union rank and file.

Metro trains were mostly running smoothly on Thursday. The civil aviation authority asked airports in Toulouse, Bordeaux and Nantes to reduce air traffic by 20%.

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