Protests erupt in France over Macron’s retirement age push

Similar scenes repeated themselves in numerous other cities.

Published - March 17, 2023 04:50 pm IST - PARIS

Protesters stand in a cloud of teargas after a demonstration in Paris, on March 16, 2023.

Protesters stand in a cloud of teargas after a demonstration in Paris, on March 16, 2023. | Photo Credit: AP

Protesters disrupted traffic in Paris on Friday as angry critics, political opponents and labor unions around France blasted President Emmanuel Macron's decision to force a bill raising the retirement age from 62 to 64 through parliament without a vote.

Opposition parties were expected to start procedures later Friday for a no-confidence vote on the government led by Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne. The vote would likely take place early next week.

Mr. Macron ordered Ms. Borne on Thursday to make use of a special constitutional power to push the highly unpopular pension bill through without a vote in the National Assembly, France's lower house of parliament.

His calculated risk infuriated opposition lawmakers, many citizens and unions. Thousands gathered in protest Thursday at the Place de la Concorde, which faces the National Assembly building. As night fell, police officers charged the demonstrators in waves to clear the Place. Small groups then moved through nearby streets in the chic Champs-Elysees neighborhood,. setting street fires.

Similar scenes repeated themselves in numerous other cities, from Rennes and Nantes in eastern France to Lyon and the southern port city of Marseille, where shop windows and bank fronts were smashed, according to French media.

French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin told radio station RTL on Friday that 310 people were arrested overnight. Most of the arrests, 258, were made in Paris, according to Mr. Darmanin.

The trade unions that had organized strikes and marches against a higher retirement age said more rallies and protest marches would take place in the days ahead. “This retirement reform is brutal, unjust, unjustified for the world of workers,” they declared.

Mr. Macron has made the proposed pension changes the key priority of his second term, arguing that reform is needed to make the French economy more competitive and to keep the pension system from diving into deficit. France, like many richer nations, faces lower birth rates and longer life expectancy.

Mr. Macron decided to invoke the special power during a Cabinet meeting a few minutes before a scheduled vote in the National Assembly, where the legislation had no guarantee of securing majority support. The Senate adopted the bill earlier Thursday.

Opposition lawmakers demanded the government to step down. If the expected no-confidence motion fails, the pension bill would be considered adopted. If it passes, it would also spell the end Mr. Macron’s retirement reform plan and force the government to resign, a first since 1962.

Mr. Macron could reappoint Ms. Borne if he chooses, and a new Cabinet would be named.

Mr. Macron’s centrist alliance has the most seats in the National Assembly, where a no-confidence motion also requires majority support. Left-wing and far-right lawmakers are determined to vote in favor.

Leaders of the The Republicans have said their conservative party would not back the motion. While some party lawmakers might stray from that position, they are expected to be a minority.

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