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Wednesday, Feb 28, 2024

Over 740,000 Protest Against France's Pension Reforms, Clash With Police

Over 740,000 Protest Against France's Pension Reforms, Clash With Police

Protesters delayed trains at Gare de Lyon, one of the busiest stations in Paris, walking on the rails and lighting flares in what they called a show of solidarity for a railway staffer who lost an eye in a previous protest.
Fresh clashes erupted in France Tuesday between protesters and police as tens of thousands took to the streets to show their anger against President Emmanuel Macron's pension reform that has sparked a major domestic crisis.

The day of nationwide protests and strikes called by unions is the tenth since mid-January against the law, which includes raising the retirement age from 62 to 64.

The movement has turned into a major challenge to Macron who won a second term in elections last year and presents the biggest crisis of his second mandate.

Some 13,000 police deployed nationwide on Tuesday after last Thursday saw the most violent clashes yet between protesters and security forces.

French police have been accused of using excessive force -- both by protesters and rights bodies -- and this has further fuelled the anger of demonstrators.

In eastern Paris, police fired tear gas and launched a charge after some protesters, dressed in black with their faces covered, raided a grocery store and started a fire as the march closed in on Place de la Nation.

Police said at least 27 people were arrested in the capital by the afternoon.

Threw projectiles

Protesters delayed trains at Gare de Lyon, one of the busiest stations in Paris, walking on the rails and lighting flares in what they called a show of solidarity for a railway staffer who lost an eye in a previous protest.

In the western city of Nantes, protesters threw projectiles at security forces who fired back tear gas, an AFP reporter said. A bank was set on fire as were rubbish bins around the city.

Police deployed water cannon in the southeastern city of Lyon and tear gas in the northern city of Lille after protesters caused damage including smashing a bus stop.

Rubbish collectors in Paris are from Wednesday suspending a three-week strike that has seen thousands of tonnes of garbage accumulate in the capital, the CGT union said.

But it said the move was to allow workers' coordination to "go on strike again even more strongly" as fewer workers were now striking.

Nearly two weeks after Macron forced the new pensions law through parliament using a special provision, unions have vowed no let-up in mass protests to get the government to back down.

A state visit to France by Britain's King Charles III, which had been due to begin on Sunday, was postponed because of the unrest.

Political talks

Macron on Monday held crisis talks with Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne, other cabinet ministers and senior lawmakers at the Elysee Palace.

"We need to continue to hold out a hand to the unions," a participant in the meeting quoted Macron as saying, although the president rejected any revision of the pensions law.

Borne has scheduled talks over three weeks with members of parliament, political parties and local authorities, while still hoping to meet union leaders.

Laurent Berger, head of the moderate CFDT union, called for the appointment of a mediator between unions and the government as "a gesture in favour of cooling off, and finding a way out".

Hard-left CGT union leader Philippe Martinez said: "The aim is the withdrawal" of the pensions law.

But government spokesman Olivier Veran said the law was no longer up for discussion.

"It's in the past now," he said.

'Nothing is changing'

The French interior ministry put Tuesday's turnout at around 740,000 protesters nationwide, down somewhat on the 1.09 million who took to the streets last Thursday.

The CGT union said over two million protested, also down in its estimation of 3.5 million on March 23.

Young people were prominent in Tuesday's protests, with many blockading universities and high schools.

Jo Zeguelli, 19, a student at the Sorbonne university in Paris said: "Nothing is changing. Macron does not seem like he is listening to us."

In Toulouse, Paul Castagne, 26, a doctoral student in ecology said he feared "what the government is trying to do is let the situation deteriorate and play on people's weariness."

Mass transit in Paris was heavily affected, with traffic both on metros and suburban trains disrupted.

On Monday, workers blocked entry to the Louvre in Paris, the world's most visited museum, forcing its closure.

As on previous strike days, the Eiffel Tower in Paris and the Palace of Versailles outside the capital were also shut on Tuesday.
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