- Hundreds of thousands joined ninth day of protests
- Anarchists riot in Paris, rallies mostly peaceful
- Unions call for new nationwide action on March 28
- Visit to Paris by Britain’s King Charles postponed
By Elizabeth Pineau and Dominique Vidalon
PARIS, March 24 (Reuters) – President Emmanuel Macron was under pressure on Friday to find a way out of a crisis that has seen some of France’s worst street violence in years over a pension bill he has pushed through parliament without a vote.
In Paris and many cities across the country, clean-up crews sifted through broken glass, charred garbage cans and shattered bus stops after violent clashes overnight between black-clad anarchists and police. A tag on an ATM read: “Paris is burning.”
Some 441 police officers were injured and 475 people were arrested. Dozens of protesters were also injured, including a woman who lost a thumb in the Normandy town of Rouen.
The protest rallies that gathered large crowds against a bill that will delay retirement age by two years to 64 had been largely peaceful during the day.
But there were violent clashes across the country on Thursday evening, which saw a police station targeted in the western France town of Lorient, the main entrance of the Bordeaux town hall set ablaze and hundreds of fires recorded nationwide.
Against this backdrop, Britain’s King Charles’ state visit to France, due to start on Sunday, has been postponed, the Elysee said.
“There has been unacceptable violence,” the head of the CFDT labour union Laurent Berger told RTL radio. “We need to calm things down, before there is a tragedy.”
“To find a way out, we need the government and the president to make a gesture,” he added.
The solution, the influential Berger suggested, would be to pause the reform for six months and look for compromises.
In a TV interview on Wednesday, Macron said he would not withdraw the law and that it would proceed as planned and enter into force by year end. He was expected to hold a news conference in the coming hours in Brussels, where he is taking part in an EU summit.
Opinion polls show a wide majority of voters are opposed to the pension bill. They were further angered by the government’s decision to skip the vote in parliament and by Macron comparing some of the protests to the Jan. 6, 2021, storming of the U.S. Capitol.
The latest wave of protests and clashes has become the most serious challenge to Macron’s authority since the “Yellow Vest” revolt of disgruntled working class people four years ago.
Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin told CNews TV that Macron was “worried for the country” because of the street violence and gave no sign of him changing tack.
On a shattered Starbucks window in Paris, someone had tagged “Democracy” in big red letters. Other tags seen on burnt down newspaper kiosks and damaged shop windows read “Anti-Macron” and “Macron, resign.”
For Paul, a Parisian retiree, that was going to far.
“Violence has never been a way to be heard,” he said.
But 30-year old Bastien Mrozovski was more understanding, at a time where polls show many are upset with Macron’s leadership style.
“There were attempts to try with the soft diplomacy, with the unions, with protests that was quite peaceful the past weeks. Now, there is forcibly a threshold crossed, which leads to violence on the other side,” Mrozovski said.
Unions have called for regional action over the weekend and new nationwide strikes and protests on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, fuel shipments resumed early Friday from TotalEnergies Gonfreville refinery in Normandy after police intervened to disperse refinery workers holding a blockage, Energy Minister Agnes Pannier-Runacher said.