The protests over pension reforms represent the biggest challenge to President Macron’s authority since the 2018 “Yellow Vests” demonstrations.
Riot police clashed with protesters for a second night in Paris as demonstrations continued against government plans to raise the French retirement age.
The growing unrest since the beginning of the year, which has led to a wave of strikes and rubbish piling up in the streets of the French capital, presents President Emmanuel Macron with the biggest challenge to his authority since the so-called ‘Gilets Jaunes’. or “Yellow Vests” protests of December 2018.
Police fired tear gas on Friday evening to deal with crowd disorder as protesters gathered in the Place de la Concorde, near the Assemblee Nationale parliament building.
“Macron, resign!” chanted some demonstrators as they line up in front of a line of riot police.
The protest at the elegant Place de Concorde in Paris began with a festive atmosphere as several thousand protesters sang, danced and lit a huge bonfire. But it quickly degenerated into a scene that echoed Thursday night as riot police attacked and used tear gas to clear the square, while some protesters threw firecrackers and hurled paving stones at police.
On Thursday night, police also attacked the crowd with batons and used water cannons as small groups then set street fires in posh neighborhoods nearby.
French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin told radio station RTL that 310 people were arrested overnight, most of them in Paris.
Scattered protests were also held in cities across France – from a march in Bordeaux to a rally in Toulouse.
Port officials in Calais temporarily stopped ferries from crossing the English Channel to Dover. Some university campuses in Paris were blockaded and protesters occupied a busy ring road around the French capital.
The Parisian garbage collectors have extended their strike for the 12th day, with piles of stinking rubbish in the streets. Striking cleaners also continued to block Europe’s largest incinerator and two other sites that process waste from the capital.
Some yellow vest activists, who staged formidable protests against Macron’s economic policies during his first term in office, were among those who relayed Friday’s protest in Paris on social media. Police say “radicalized yellow vests” are among the troublemakers at protest marches.
The French attach great importance to maintaining the official retirement age at 62, one of the lowest in OECD countries.
Macron’s government used a special constitutional power to push through pension reforms, which will, among other things, gradually raise the retirement age from 62 to 64.
More than eight in 10 French people are dissatisfied with the government’s decision to skip the vote in parliament on changing the retirement age and 65 percent want strikes and protests to continue, a Toluna Harris Interactive poll for RTL radio.
Unions organizing the opposition to the reforms have urged protesters to remain peaceful in the coming days as more strikes and marches take place. They have also called on people to leave schools, factories, refineries and other workplaces to force Macron to abandon his plan to keep the French working for another two years, until they are 64, before receiving a full pension.
Legislators from the left and centrist opposition tabled a vote of no confidence in parliament on Friday afternoon. But while Macron lost his absolute majority in France’s lower house in elections last year, it was unlikely that it would continue — unless a surprise alliance of lawmakers from all sides is formed.
To continue without a vote “is a denial of democracy … a total denial of what has been happening in the streets for several weeks,” said 52-year-old psychologist Nathalie Alquier in Paris.
“It’s just unbearable.”
Protests are planned for this weekend and another day of nationwide union action is scheduled for next Thursday. Teacher unions called for strikes next week that could disrupt symbolic baccalaureate high school exams.