Dozens of protesters were arrested and police officers were injured Friday during a second night of violent clashes in Paris over French President Emmanuel Macron’s attempt to impose an increase to the country’s retirement age without a vote in the National Assembly.
Several thousands people gathered at the Place de Concorde around a large bonfire as demonstrators kept up their pressure on Macron’s government, which is set to face motions of no-confidence on Monday. Chants of “Macron, resign” could be heard in the crowd.
As they did on Thursday night, riot police charged into the crowd and threw tear gas to empty the huge square across from the National Assembly. Some protesters grabbed wooden planks from a nearby renovation site to arm themselves, hurling fireworks and stones at police.
At least five officers were hurt in the melee, France Info and other local media outlets reported, and between 60 and 70 protesters were taken into custody.
French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin told radio station RTL that 310 people were arrested the night before, most of them in Paris.
Friday night saw small groups break off from the main gathering and set street fires in nearby neighbourhoods.
As Saturday dawned, those streets and the Place de Concorde had largely returned to calm.
Mostly small, scattered protests were held in cities around France, from a march in Bordeaux to a rally in Toulouse.
Trade unions organizing the opposition urged demonstrators to remain peaceful during more strikes and marches in the days ahead. They have called on people to leave schools, factories, refineries and other workplaces to force Macron to abandon his plan to make the French to work two more years, until 64, before receiving a full pension.
Macron’s government has said the plan is necessary to save a straining pension system. But the French people are deeply attached to keeping the official retirement age at 62, which is among the lowest in OECD countries.
“We are not going to stop,” CGT union representative Regis Vieceli told The Associated Press on Friday. He said overwhelming the streets with discontent and refusing to continue working is “the only way that we will get them to back down.”
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Paris garbage collectors extended their strike for a 12th day, with piles of foul-smelling rubbish growing daily in the French capital. Striking sanitation workers continued to block Europe’s largest incineration site and two other sites that treat Paris garbage.
Teachers’ unions called for strikes next week, which could disrupt the emblematic Baccalaureate high-school exams.
Some yellow vest activists, who mounted formidable protests against Macron’s economic policies during his first term, were among those who relayed Friday’s Paris protest on social media. Police say that “radicalized yellow vests” are among troublemakers at protest marches.
Macron asked Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne to invoke a special constitutional power to skirt a vote in the chaotic lower chamber on Thursday amid concern he could not get majority support for the plan.
Left-wing and centrist opposition lawmakers filed a motion of no-confidence in parliament on Friday afternoon.
If the no-confidence votes fail, the bill becomes law. If a majority agrees, it would spell the end of the retirement reform plan and force the government to resign, although Macron could always reappoint Borne to name the new Cabinet.
But demonstrators made it clear that Macron’s attempted move has crossed a line.
Going ahead without a vote “is a denial of democracy … a total denial of what has been happening in the streets for several weeks,” 52-year-old psychologist Nathalie Alquier told Reuters in Paris. “It’s just unbearable.”
— with files from The Associated Press and Reuters
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