Almost 1 million French march against raising the retirement age by 2 years
- US News
- February 11, 2023
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PARIS (AP) – Police were on duty across France on Saturday as protesters held a sometimes uneasy fourth round of nationwide demonstrations against President Emmanuel Macron’s plans to reform the country’s pension system.
According to the Interior Ministry, over 960,000 people demonstrated in Paris, Nice, Marseille, Toulouse, Nantes and other cities. The protesters hoped to keep up pressure on the government to withdraw, and further action is planned for February 16.
In the French capital, authorities counted around 93,000 participants, the most who have demonstrated in Paris against the pension changes since protests began last month.
The weekend demonstrations attracted young people and other opponents of the pension proposals who were unable to attend the previous three days of action, all of which took place on weekdays.
This time, however, the demonstrations were not accompanied by rail workers’ strikes, allowing trains and the Paris Metro to run on Saturday. However, an unexpected strike by air traffic controllers resulted in up to half of flights to and from Paris’ second-busiest airport, Orly, being canceled on Saturday afternoon.
Several thousand demonstrators organized in Nantes in western France.
Jerome Gilles/NurPhoto via Getty Images
In Paris, due to the heavy workload on weekdays, some workers and students wanting to voice their opposition took part in the protests for the first time.
“We often hear that we should be too young to care, but with rising inflation and rising electricity prices, this reform will have an impact on our families,” said Elisa Haddad, 18. “It’s my first screening because I couldn’t attend with the university. It is important that the voice of (France’s) parents and students is heard.”
French lawmakers started a heated debate earlier this week over pension legislation to raise the minimum retirement age for a full state pension from 62 to 64. It is the flagship legislation of Macron’s second term.
The protests on Saturday sparked riots. A car and several rubbish bins were set on fire on a central Paris boulevard as police attacked the crowd and used tear gas to disperse protesters. Paris police said they arrested eight people for offenses ranging from possession of a firearm to vandalism.
Some protesters walked as families across the French capital’s Place de la Republique, carrying emotional banners. “I don’t want my parents to die at work,” read one held by a teenager.
Protesters with umbrellas clashed with police, who used tear gas heavily.
Jerome Gilles/NurPhoto via Getty Images
The protests are a crucial test for Macron and his opponents. The government has insisted it is determined to follow through on Macron’s campaign promises to reform France’s generous pension system. Of the 38 member states of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, France is among the countries that spend the most years in retirement.
The president has called the reforms “essential” to ensure the long-term viability of the country’s pension system, noting that workers in neighboring countries are retiring years later.
Despite opinion polls consistently showing growing opposition to reform and his own popularity dwindling, Macron insisted he is delivering on a key campaign promise he made when he came to power in 2017 and ahead of his re-election in April 2022.
His government now faces an uphill political battle in parliament that could stretch for weeks or months.
Strong public resentment will fuel efforts by unions and left-wing lawmakers to try to block the law.
Unions issued a joint statement on Saturday calling the government “deaf” and demanding that French officials scrap the bill. They threatened a nationwide “shutdown” from March 7 if their demands were not met.
On the previous day of protest four days ago, over 750,000 people demonstrated in many French cities, significantly fewer than in the two previous protest days in January, when over a million people took to the streets.
Nico Garriga in Paris contributed to this.