Protests shake France against raising the retirement age

PARIS: French President Emmanuel MacronThe government on Thursday pushed a controversial pension reform through parliament without a vote, sparking angry protests in Paris and other cities as well as uproar within the legislature.
The decision to use a special constitutional power allowing the government to pass laws without a vote was tantamount to admitting that the government lacked a majority to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64.
The Senate had passed the bill earlier on Thursday, but the reluctance of right-wing opposition MPs in the National Assembly to side with Macron resulted in the government’s defeat in the lower house.
“We cannot risk seeing 175 hours of parliamentary debate come to nothing,” Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne told MPs as she announced the decision amid jeers and boos from opposition MPs who also sang. the National anthem.
A crowd of thousands gathered outside parliament in the historic Place de la Concorde in central Paris, watched by riot police.
“I am revolted by what is happening. I have the impression of being deceived as a citizen”, declared Laure Cartelier, a 55-year-old teacher who came to express her indignation. “In a democracy, it should have gone through a vote.”
At around 8:00 p.m. (1900 GMT), police used tear gas and water cannons to evacuate protesters after a fire was started in the center of the square, near an Egyptian obelisk that has stood there for nearly 200 years old.
Some 120 people suspected of having sought to cause damage were arrested, the Paris police said.
Even after the rally dispersed, some protesters set fires and damaged shop fronts in side streets, AFP journalists found.
Several shops were looted during protests in the southern city of Marseille while clashes between protesters and security forces also erupted in the western cities of Nantes and Rennes as well as Lyon in the southeast, correspondents said. from AFP.
Unions and political analysts had warned that passing the legislation without a vote – invoking Article 49.3 of the constitution – risked radicalizing opponents and undermining the law’s democratic legitimacy.
“It’s a total failure for the government,” far-right leader Marine Le Pen told reporters. “From the start, the government mistakenly thought it had a majority.”
According to polls, two-thirds of French people are opposed to the overhaul of pensions.
“When a president has no majority in the country, no majority in the National Assembly, he must withdraw his bill,” added Socialist Party leader Olivier Faure.
Some opposition parties, including Le Pen’s, are expected to call for a no-confidence vote against the centrist government on Friday, but Borne’s cabinet is expected to survive, thanks to support from the right-wing Republican Party.
Unions immediately called for a new day of strikes and mass protests for next Thursday, calling the government’s decision a “total denial of democracy”.
Antoine Bristielle, a public opinion specialist at the Fondation Jean-Jaures think tank, told AFP that enacting such an important law without a vote in Parliament risked further upsetting the country and deepen anti-Macron sentiment.
Opinion polls showed around eight in 10 people opposed legislating in this way, while a growing number of people were losing faith in French democracy, he said.
After unsuccessfully trying to push through pension reform during his first term, Macron returned to the issue during his campaign for re-election last April.
But he lost his parliamentary majority in June after elections to the National Assembly.
Despite the day of great drama, Macron made no public comment about it on Thursday.
“You can’t gamble with the future of the country,” he told a closed-door cabinet meeting on Thursday morning, justifying the decision, according to an attendee.
Trains, schools, utilities and ports have been hit by strikes since January amid some of the biggest protests in decades.
An ongoing strike by municipal garbage collectors in Paris has also seen an estimated 7,000 tonnes of uncollected rubbish pile up in the streets, attracting rats and appalling tourists.
Footage showed protesters in Paris and other cities taking advantage of the situation to set fire to uncollected rubbish.
The political implications of forcing the adoption of a reform that the majority of the population opposes are uncertain.
The head of the CGT union, Philippe Martinezwarned this week that Macron risks “handing over” the presidency to Le Pen in the next election in 2027, when Macron will not be allowed to run for a third term under the French constitution.


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