Mass protests blocked roads in Paris and other French cities on Friday in yet more rallies against the government’s controversial pension reforms, with more actions planned for next week.
The move comes a day after President Emmanuel Macron forced the plan through parliament without a final vote in the lower house. Riots broke out Friday evening in Paris on the Place de la Concorde as police used water cannons and tear gas to battle about 4,000 protesters who gathered to oppose the pension changes.
French television station BFMTV reported 61 people were arrested on Friday. Franceinfo reported five police officers were injured, citing police sources. On Thursday, some 6,000 protestors gathered on the Place de la Concorde. Paris police said 217 people were arrested. On Friday morning, commuter traffic in the Paris city centre was temporarily blocked after a call for action from the trade union CGT. The newspaper Le Parisien reported that protesters temporarily blocked roads and roundabouts in other French cities, such as Rennes and Brest.
Protesting young people, including Clermont-Ferrand and Lille, also partly blocked schools and universities. Some refineries have announced renewed or extended strikes, although the supply of petrol to filling stations has yet to be interrupted. In Paris, police called on striking rubbish collectors to clear around 9,000 tons of trash piled up in city streets. Disruptions of the French public transit and railway system remained largely manageable on Friday. But in Toulon, in southern France, demonstrators occupied train tracks and brought train traffic to a standstill, the broadcaster BFMTV reported. On Thursday afternoon, Macron had decided on short notice to bypass the lower house of France’s National Assembly and implement the reform project without a vote.
The move was met by two motions of no confidence against the government, but these are not seen as succeeding, which would require a majority in a vote on Monday.
The small centre-right LIOT bloc tabled a cross-party motion of no-confidence. An alliance of left-wing parties indicated on Friday they might support the measure. It remains to be seen if the Monday vote will be supported by conservative Républicains, who in principle support the pension reforms or right-wing nationalists.The pension reforms will, among other things, gradually increase the retirement age from 62 to 64. The government feared that the result in the lower house would be too close to predict - and potentially end in an embarrassing defeat. A special article in the French constitution allows for the bypass. French labour unions have called for a new nationwide day of strikes and protests next Thursday. Millions of people had already taken to the streets against the reform proposal. Meanwhile, Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin instructed police to put in place “enhanced protective measures” for members of parliament in the face of the ongoing protests. The parliamentarians are exposed to threats, insults and damage to property, broadcaster France Info cited the minister as saying in a letter to the prefect of police of Paris, the prefect of police of Bouches-du-Rhône, the director of the national police and the director of the national gendarmerie.