UPDATED: King Charles’s visit to France postponed over violent protests, trip to Germany will go ahead

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By Benoit Van Overstraeten and Elizabeth Pineau

PARIS, March 24 (Reuters) – Britain’s King Charles on Friday cancelled a state visit to France after social unrest over President Emmanuel Macron’s new pension law erupted into some of the worst street violence seen in years across the country.

The postponement will be a major embarrassment to Macron, who had hoped the monarch’s visit would mark a symbolic step in the two countries’ efforts to turn a page after years of poor relations post-Brexit.

Charles had been due to travel to France on Sunday for three days before moving on to Germany, an itinerary that had been seen as a win for the French leader who has sought to position himself as Europe’s de facto leader.

The king’s visit had been due to include a lavish banquet at the Palace of Versailles and the postponement will pile further pressure on Macron to find a way out of a crisis over his plans to raise the retirement age, which has seen some of France’s worst unrest since the “Yellow Vest” rebellion of 2018-2019.

“The King and The Queen Consort’s State Visit to France has been postponed. Their Majesties greatly look forward to the opportunity to visit France as soon as dates can be found,” a Buckingham Palace spokesperson said.

A source in British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s office said Macron had asked for the visit to be cancelled.

The Elysee said it was a joint decision taken by the British and French governments after trade unions called for a further day of nationwide strikes and demonstrations during the king’s visit.

“The visit will be rescheduled as soon as possible,” the Elysee said in a statement.

A Buckingham Palace source said Charles’ visit to Germany will go ahead as planned.

Black-clad anarchists fought street battles with police for several hours in the French capital on Thursday, ransacking a McDonald’s restaurant, smashing up bus shelters and setting alight mounds of garbage that have piled up during strikes.

In Bordeaux, at the heart of one of France’s best-known wine growing areas and where Charles had also been expected to visit, protesters set alight the entrance to the city hall.

“The king is right (not to come),” 23-year old Dorian Ginggen said in Paris. “France is dangerous right now, with the protests. And at the same time he must understand that the French must be heard (by their government).”

Weeks of protests over plans to raise the retirement age by two years to 64 escalated and became more violent after Macron’s government pushed the pensions legislation through parliament last week without a vote. His government lacks a clear majority.

The president has insisted the changes to pensions are essential to keep the system funded.

Hard-left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon, who earlier this week said now was “not the right time” for Charles to come, welcomed the cancellation of the visit.

The left-wing opposition, and some protesters, often criticise Macron – who began his second term in office last year – as a would-be monarch.

“The meeting of the kings in Versailles is broken up by popular censure,” Melenchon tweeted.

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