Opponents of French President Emmanuel Macron’s plan to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64 staged a new round of protests on Saturday aimed at forcing the government to back down.
The nationwide rallies were the second round of protests in just four days and the seventh since January, and were bolstered by ongoing strikes in key sectors, such as energy, transport and garbage workers.
While determination remained high, the crowds were far smaller than in previous protests. The French Interior Ministry said 368,000 people attended the rallies across France; whereas the union CGT said that more than one million protested.
Police clashed with troublemakers in several cities, notably Paris, charging, tackling and pepper-spraying intruders dressed in black who set fires to piles of trash along the march route.
‘More anger’ as Macron snubs union leaders
The protest marches coincided with debate on the government’s pension reform bill in the Senate, where the clock was ticking to meet a Sunday midnight vote deadline before the legislation moves to the next step in a complex process.
President Macron’s refusal to accept union leaders’ request for a meeting has fueled the determination of protesters, the CGT union leader said ahead of Saturday’s march in Paris.
“There’s more anger,” Philippe Martinez insisted, adding that refusing to meet the union leaders organizing the protests was an insult, amounting to “giving the finger.”
On Friday, the government asked for a special procedure to speed up the process by scheduling a single vote on the entire bill, rather than separate votes on each article and hundreds of amendments.
If the bill is approved by the conservative-controlled Senate, as expected, it would continue next week on its way through France’s legislative process. The government has not ruled out invoking a special constitutional power to force the bill through parliament without a vote.