By Dominique Vidalon and Manuel Ausloos
PARIS (Reuters) – Paris police clashed with demonstrators for a third night on Saturday as thousands of people marched throughout the country amid anger at the government pushing through a rise in the state pension age without a parliamentary vote.
The growing unrest and strikes have left President Emmanuel Macron facing the gravest challenge to his authority since the so-called “Gilets Jaunes” (Yellow Vests) protests four years ago.
“Macron, Resign!” and “Macron is going to break down, we are going to win,” demonstrators chanted on the Place d’Italie in southern Paris. Riot police used tear gas and clashed with some in the crowd as trash bins were set on fire.
Municipal authorities had banned rallies on Paris’s central Place de la Concorde and nearby Champ-Elysees on Saturday night after demonstrations that resulted in 61 arrests the previous night. There were 81 arrests on Saturday night.
Earlier in the French capital, a group of students and activists from the “Revolution Permanente” collective briefly invaded the Forum des Halles shopping mall, waving banners calling for a general strike and shouting “Paris stand up, rise up”, videos on social media showed.
BFM television also showed images of demonstrations underway in cities such as Compiegne in the north, Nantes in the west and Marseille in the south. In Bordeaux, in the southwest, police also used tear gas against protesters who had started a fire.
“The reform must be implemented … Violence cannot be tolerated,” Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire told Le Parisien newspaper.
A broad alliance of France’s main unions has said it would continue to mobilise to try to force a U-turn on the changes. A day of nationwide industrial action is scheduled for Thursday.
Rubbish has been piling up on the streets of Paris after refuse workers joined in the action.
Some 37% of operational staff at TotalEnergies’ TTEF.PA refineries and depots – at sites including Feyzin in southeast France and Normandy in the north – were on strike on Saturday, a company spokesperson said. Rolling strikes continued on the railways.
While eight days of nationwide protests since mid-January, and many local industrial actions, have so far been largely peaceful, the unrest over the last three days is reminiscent of the Yellow Vest protests which erupted in late 2018 over high fuel prices. Those demonstrations forced Macron into a partial U-turn on a carbon tax.
Macron’s overhaul raises the pension age by two years to 64, which the government says is essential to ensure the system does not go bust.