There have been rare chaotic scenes in the French parliament as President Emmanuel Macron used special powers to push through an unpopular pensions bill that aims to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64.
Boos and chants from opposition politicians were heard in the National Assembly (the lower house) as leftist MPs sang lines from the national anthem in reaction to news that the legislation could pass without it is necessary to vote.
The government’s decision also drew a fierce public reaction. Some 7,000 people demonstrated against the pension changes at an unscheduled rally in Place de la Concorde in Paris – across the Seine from the assembly.
Police fired tear gas and used a water cannon to disperse protesters, while officers who charged groups of protesters had cobblestones thrown at them, according to a Reuters news agency reporter.
A police officer was helped by colleagues after appearing injured and falling to the ground.
The decision to invoke the special power – article 49.3 – was taken during a cabinet meeting at the presidential palace, minutes before the scheduled vote, because Mr Macron had no guarantee of obtaining a majority in the assembly.
He argued that the reforms were essential to ensure that the pension system does not collapse, as people’s age and life expectancy increase.
But this decision should trigger motions of no confidence in his government.
Earlier Thursday, the senate (upper house) passed the bill by 193 votes to 114, a tally widely expected since the conservative majority backs the reforms there.
As Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne tried to formally announce the special procedure to the assembly, some left-wing politicians held up signs reading “no to 64”, while far-right leader Marine Le Pen l called to resign.
Other opposition politicians came out of parliament to demand the resignation of the government.
The disruption led the speaker to briefly delay the parliamentary session in an attempt to restore order.
Suspect killed and six police officers injured in French house explosion during arrest
Paris looks like a dump as more than 5,000 tons of rubbish pile up in the streets
UK to help fund detention center in France as part of £480m deal to stop Channel crossings
The decision was called a “spectacular failure” by Jean-Luc Melenchon, the leader of the left-wing party France Insoumise (insubordinate France).
“This bill has no parliamentary legitimacy, no street legitimacy,” he said during a protest outside parliament.
Opinion polls show that a large majority of voters oppose pension reforms, as do unions, who argue that there are other ways to balance the account of the pension system.
Socialist Party leader Olivier Faure said earlier the bill could spark “uncontrollable anger” after weeks of strikes and protests that have affected power generation, stalled some refinery shipments and seen the rubbish accumulating in the streets of Paris.
For a motion of no confidence to pass, it must be approved by at least half of the seats in the lower house – currently 287.
If such a motion succeeds, the government would have to resign.