Protests, clashes across France after government pushes through pension change without vote
At least 120 arrested amid protests against bill to raise retirement age by 2 years to 64
French President Emmanuel Macron ordered his prime minister to wield a special constitutional power Thursday that skirts parliament to force through a highly unpopular bill raising the retirement age from 62 to 64 without a vote.
His calculated risk — using Article 49.3 of the constitution to skip a vote on the reform measures — set off a clamour among lawmakers, who began singing the national anthem even before Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne arrived in the lower chamber. She spoke forcefully over their shouts, acknowledging that Macron's unilateral move will trigger quick motions of no-confidence in his government.
The fury of opposition lawmakers echoed the anger of citizens and workers' unions.
Thousands gathered in an unplanned protest at the Place de la Concorde facing the National Assembly, lighting a bonfire. As night fell, police fired tear gas and charged the demonstrators in waves to clear the area.
Small groups of those chased away moved through nearby streets in the chic neighbourhood setting street fires. At least 120 were detained, police said.
Shops, bank fronts smashed
Similar scenes repeated themselves in numerous other cities, from Rennes and Nantes in the west, to Lyon and the southern port city of Marseille, where shop windows and bank fronts were smashed, according to French media. Radical leftist groups were blamed for at least some of the destruction.
The unions that have organized strikes and marches since January, leaving Paris reeking in piles of garbage, announced new rallies and protest marches in the days ahead. "This retirement reform is brutal, unjust, unjustified for the world of workers," they declared.
French unions called for another day of strikes and action against the reform on March 23.
Potential for 'uncontrollable anger'
Opinion polls show that a vast majority of voters oppose the pension reform, as do trade unions, who say there are other ways to balance the accounts, including taxing the wealthy more.
The government's move is likely to further enrage unions, protesters and left-wing opposition parties who say the pension overhaul is unfair and unnecessary.
Socialist Party head Olivier Faure told Reuters earlier on Thursday that it could unleash "uncontrollable anger" after weeks of rolling strikes and protests that have hit power production, blocked some shipments from refineries and seen garbage pile up on the streets of Paris.
"We're as determined as ever," said CGT unionist Christophe Jouanneau at a refinery on strike in the western France city of Donges. "From next week on, we will take things up a gear."
Opposition parties said they would request a vote of no confidence in the government, which will be voted on in the coming days, possibly on Monday.
With files from Reuters