Dozens of protesters were arrested and police officers injured on Friday in a second night of violent clashes in Paris over French President Emmanuel Macron’s attempt to introduce an increase in the country retirement age without a vote in the National Assembly.
Several thousand people gathered in the Place de Concorde around a large bonfire as protesters continued to press Macron’s government, which will face no-confidence motions on Monday. Chants of “Macron, resign” could be heard in the audience.
As they did on Thursday night, riot police charged into the crowd and threw tear gas to empty the huge square opposite the National Assembly. Some protesters grabbed wooden planks from a nearby renovation site to arm themselves and threw fireworks and rocks at police.
At least five police officers were injured in the melee, France Info and other local media reported, and between 60 and 70 protesters were arrested.
French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin told radio station RTL that 310 people were arrested the night before, most of them in Paris.
On Friday night, small groups broke away from the main gathering and started street fires in nearby neighborhoods.
By the time Saturday dawned, these streets and the Place de Concorde had largely returned to calm.
Mostly small, scattered protests were held in cities around France, from a march in Bordeaux to a demonstration in Toulouse.
Unions organizing the opposition urged protesters to remain peaceful during more strikes and marches in the coming days. They have called on people to walk out of schools, factories, refineries and other workplaces to force Macron to abandon his plan to make the French work two more years, until 64, before he receives a full pension.
Macron’s government has said the plan is necessary to save a strained pension system. But the French people are deeply committed to maintaining the official retirement age of 62, which is among the lowest in OECD countries.
“We will not stop,” CGT union representative Regis Vieceli told The Associated Press on Friday. He said overwhelming the streets with discontent and refusing to continue working is “the only way we’re going to get them to back down.”
Paris garbage collectors extended their strike for a 12th day, with piles of foul-smelling rubbish growing daily in the French capital. Striking sanitation workers continued to block Europe’s largest incinerator and two other sites that treat Paris’ garbage.
Teachers’ unions called for strikes next week, which could disrupt the symbolic high school graduations.
Some yellow vest activists, who launched formidable protests against Macron’s economic policies during his first term, were among those who broadcast Friday’s Paris protest on social media. Police say “radicalized yellow vests” are among troublemakers at protest marches.
Macron asked Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne to invoke a special constitutional power to avoid a vote in the chaotic lower house on Thursday, worried he could not get majority support for the plan.
Left-wing and centrist opposition lawmakers submitted a motion of no confidence to parliament on Friday afternoon.
If the no-confidence votes fail, the bill becomes law. If a majority agrees, it would spell the end of the pension reform plan and force the government to resign, although Macron could always reappoint Borne to name the new government.
But the protesters made it clear that Macron’s attempt to cross a line.
Going ahead without a vote “is a denial of democracy … a total denial of what has been happening in the streets for weeks,” 52-year-old psychologist Nathalie Alquier told Reuters in Paris. “It’s just unbearable.”
— with files from The Associated Press and Reuters
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