PARIS (AP) — Police were out in force across France on Saturday as protesters staged a fourth round of sometimes heated nationwide demonstrations against President Emmanuel Macron’s plans to reform the country’s pension system.
More than 960,000 people marched in Paris, Nice, Marseille, Toulouse, Nantes and other cities, according to the interior ministry. Protesters hoped to keep the pressure on the government to back down, and further action is scheduled for February 16.
In the French capital, authorities counted some 93,000 participants, the most to demonstrate in Paris against pension changes since protests began last month.
The weekend protests drew young people and others opposed to the retirement proposals who were unable to attend the previous three days of action, all held on weekdays.
This time, however, strikes by railway workers did not accompany the protests, allowing trains and the Paris metro to run on Saturday. However, an unexpected strike by air traffic controllers led to the cancellation of up to half of flights to and from Paris’ second airport, Orly, on Saturday afternoon.
In Paris, some workers and students who wanted to express their opposition attended the demonstrations for the first time, due to the heavy workload on weekdays.
“We often hear that we should be too young to care, but with rising inflation, soaring electricity prices, this reform will impact our families,” said Elisa Haddad, 18. years. “It’s my first demonstration because I couldn’t attend with the university. It is important that the voice of parents and pupils (from France) be heard.
French lawmakers entered a heated debate earlier this week over a pensions bill to raise the minimum retirement age for full pension from 62 to 64. This is the flagship legislation of Macron’s second term.
Saturday’s protests were marked by flashes of unrest. A car and several trash cans were set on fire on a boulevard in central Paris as police charged into the crowd and dispersed protesters with tear gas. Paris police said officers arrested eight people for offenses ranging from possession of a firearm to vandalism.
Some protesters marched as a family in the French capital’s Place de la République and carried emotional banners. “I don’t want my parents to die at work,” reads one, held by a teenager.
The protests are a crucial test for both Macron and his opponents. The government has insisted on its determination to push through Macron’s election promise to reform France’s generous pension system. Among the 38 member countries of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, France is one of the countries that spend the most years in retirement.
The president called the reforms “essential” to ensure the long-term survival of the country’s pension system and noted that workers in neighboring countries are retiring years later.
Although opinion polls consistently show growing opposition to reform and his own popularity waning, Macron has insisted he is keeping to a key campaign pledge he made when he came to power in 2017. and before his re-election in April 2022.
His government now faces a tough political battle in parliament that could last for weeks or months.
Strong popular resentment will bolster efforts by unions and leftist lawmakers to try to block the bill.
The unions issued a joint statement on Saturday, calling the government “deaf” and demanding that French officials drop the bill. They threatened to bring about a national “shutdown” from March 7, if their demands were not met.
In the previous day of protests four days ago, more than 750,000 people marched in many French cities, significantly fewer than the previous two days of protests in January in which more than a million people marched. took to the streets.
Nico Garriga in Paris contributed to this.