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France: Clashes between pension reform protesters, police

March 29, 2023

Tens of thousands have again protested in French cities as the government rejected a new demand by unions to suspend and rethink the pension bill.

A fire burning in front of a crowd of protesters in Paris
There have been calls for a mediator to be appointed between unions and governmentImage: Olivier Arandel/MAXPPP/dpa/picture alliance

Tens of thousands of protesters on Tuesday again took to the streets of French cities over President Emmanuel Macron's pension reform.

Train tracks and highways were blocked as violent confrontations took place with police, who have been accused of using excessive force.

An elderly woman makes her way between uncollected garbage cans and bags in Paris
More than 9,000 tons of rubbish have piled up after three weeks of strikes by waste collectorsImage: Thomas Padilla/AP/picture alliance

Transport and travel impacted

Public transport in the capital was disrupted with traffic on metro and suburban lines impacted. Landmarks and tourist attractions like the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre had to halt operations as entry was blocked.

There were delays at Gare de Lyon train station as protesters set off flares and walked on the tracks.

Elsewhere there were clashed between police and protesters on the streets of the western city of Nantes, where AFP news agency reported that projectiles were thrown at police who responded by using tear gas.

A bank branch and rubbish bins were also reported to have been set on fire.

Water cannons and tear gas were used on protesters in the south eastern city of Lyon, while in the northern city of Lille there were reported acts of vandalism.

The protests come nearly two weeks after Macron pushed the new pensions law through parliament using a special provision.

Union pushes for mediation

Earlier government rejected a demand from unions to suspend and reconsider the pension bill, which will push back retirement age by two years to 64.

Macron has said the change is being done out of necessity in order to keep the country's finances in check.

Laurent Berger, the head of the moderate CFDT union, called for a mediator to be appointed as "a gesture in favor of cooling off, and finding a way out."

"We have proposed a way out ... and it's intolerable that we are being stonewalled again," Berger told reporters at the start of a rally in Paris.

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said 13,000 security personnel were being deployed on Tuesday — 5,500 of them in Paris alone. 175 police officers were injured in protests, he added.

According to preliminary figures, 201 people were arrested, Darmanin said in a tweet. 

Meanwhile the CGT union announced an end to more than three weeks of strikes by waste collectors in Paris which has led to more that 7,000 tonnes of rubbish to pile up in the streets.

kb/jcg (AFP, Reuters)