April 19. 2024. 9:18

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Fresh protests in France over Macron’s pension reform as backlash grows

French workers angry with President Emmanuel Macron and his plan to raise the pension age blocked access to a terminal at the main Paris airport on Thursday as part of a nationwide day of protests.

At Roissy-Charles De Gaulle airport and across the country, wildcat actions by small groups of protesters blocked roads and access to schools, while protesters gathered with banners reading “No to the pension reform.”

Near Toulouse, in the southwest, plumes of smoke were seen rising from burning piles of debris blocking traffic on a highway. Unions also blocked the train tracks at Paris’ Gare de Lyon station, BFM TV footage showed.

Opinion polls have long shown that a majority of voters were opposed to delaying retirement age by two years to 64.


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Voters were further angered by the government’s decision last week to push the pension changes through parliament without a vote, and by Mr Macron’s defiant comments on Wednesday.

The president broke weeks of silence on the new policy to say he would stand firm and the law would come into force by the end of they year, at one point comparing the protests to the January 6th, 2021 storming of the U.S. Capitol.

Mr Macron’s comments “increased the anger,” Laurent Berger, the head of France’s biggest union, the moderate CFDT, told BFM TV.

“He’s the one setting the country on fire,” Celine Verzeletti of the hardline CGT union, told France Inter.

Electricity output was also cut on Thursday as unions raised pressure on the government to withdraw the law. Flight services will continue to be reduced at the weekend, France’s civil aviation authority said.

Protests also targeted oil depots and blocked an LNG terminal in the northern city of Dunkirk.

Protests against the new law, which also accelerates a planned increase in the number of years one must work to draw a full pension, have drawn huge crowds in rallies organised by unions since January.

High-speed and regional trains, the Paris metro and public transportation systems in other major cities were disrupted. About 30 per cent of flights at Paris Orly Airport were cancelled.

Thursday’s events are the ninth round of nationwide protests and strikes called by France’s eight main unions since January.

Most protests have been peaceful, but anger has mounted since the government bypassed a vote in the lower house of parliament, where it does not have an absolute majority and was not sure to get enough support.

Since then, the past seven nights have seen demonstrations in Paris and other cities with rubbish bins set ablaze and scuffles with police.

The latest wave of protests represents the most serious challenge to the president’s authority since the “Yellow Vest” revolt four years ago.

Mr Macron said on Wednesday that he had tasked his prime minister, Elisabeth Borne, with finding more support for the government. He said he wanted to involve unions more on upcoming policy changes on issues including schools, health or the environment.

Labour Minister Olivier Dussopt said the government was not in denial about the tensions but wanted to move on.

“There are many subjects which make it possible to renew a dialogue,” he said, including how companies share their profits with workers.

The centrist president (45), who is in his second and final term, repeatedly said he is convinced France’s retirement system needs to be modified to keep it financed.

Opponents proposed other solutions, including higher taxes on the wealthy or companies, which Mr Macron says would hurt the economy. – Agencies