The interior minister says hundreds of police officers were injured in the most violent day of protests since they began in January.
French authorities have arrested 457 people during nationwide protests against French President Emmanuel Macron’s pension reform, as trade unions called for more demonstrations.
Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin told the CNews channel that 903 fires were set in the streets of the capital Paris on Thursday.
A total of 441 security forces were injured in clashes in what was by far the most violent demonstration day since it began in January, as hundreds of thousands of people across the country took part in mostly peaceful gatherings.
“There were many demonstrations and some turned violent, particularly in Paris,” Darmanin said Friday morning.
Al Jazeera’s Natacha Butler reported from Paris that there were more than 200 protests and strikes across France, most of them peaceful.
“But there were some incidents of serious violence in Paris, where police and some protesters clashed,” she added. “There were scenes of virtual chaos.”
Police had warned that “anarchist” groups were expected to infiltrate the Paris march and young men wearing hoods and face masks were seen smashing windows and setting fire to uncollected rubbish in the final stages of the demonstration against the government’s plan to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64.
Darmanin, a right-wing hardliner in Macron’s centrist government, rejected calls by protesters to withdraw the action pension reform which passed parliament last week under controversial circumstances.
“I don’t think we should repeal this law because of violence,” he said. “If so, that means there is no state. We must accept a democratic social debate, but not a violent one.”
Elsewhere on Thursday, the entrance to the town hall in the southwestern city of Bordeaux was set on fire during clashes.
“I have trouble understanding and accepting this kind of vandalism,” Mayor Pierre Hurmic told RTL radio on Friday.
‘Why make a target of our common building, of all the inhabitants of Bordeaux? I can only condemn it in the strongest possible terms.”
Butler said Friday that people across France’s political spectrum condemned the violence and said it was unacceptable.
“However, there are some people who also say that this is what happens when people protest peacefully for so long but they are not heard; then they resort to other methods – sometimes violence – to be heard,” she added.
Meanwhile, unions have called for more strikes and protests on Tuesday, which will coincide with a state visit by the new King of the United Kingdom, Charles III, his first international trip since he came to the throne in September 2022.
Separately, the Iranian government has urged France to listen to protesters and avoid violence.
“The French government needs to talk to its people and listen to their voices,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani tweeted.
“We do not support destruction or riots, but we argue that instead of creating chaos in other countries, you should listen to the voice of your people and avoid violence against them,” he added.
Kanaani referred to criticism, including from France, of Iran’s response to months of protests sparked by the death of a 22-year-old woman following her arrest for allegedly violating Iran’s strict dress code for women.