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In France, some protests against raising the retirement age turned violent

A flurry of protests against President Emmanuel Macron’s plans To raise France’s retirement age Saturdays between 62 and 64 took place in Paris and beyond, as uncollected garbage continued to reek on the streets of the French capital amid strikes by sanitation workers.

Largely nonviolent protests were held in several cities, including Nantes and Marseille, where protesters overtook police to occupy the main train station for about 15 minutes. In the eastern city of Besançon, hundreds of protesters lit a brazier and burned voter cards.

In Paris, an eerie calm has returned to much of the French capital after two straight nights of unrest. Police banned gatherings on the Champs-Élysées avenue and the elegant Place de la Concorde, where protesters set fire to a statue of Macron as crowds cheered on Friday night.

Demonstration in front of the French National Assembly

Protesters gather in front of the National Assembly in Paris, France, before the French government passes pension reforms through parliament without a vote. March 16, 2023.

Michelle Stupak via Getty Images

Several thousand protesters gathered on Saturday evening in a public square in southern Paris, Place d’Italia, where some set fire to trash cans.

Demonstrators are trying to pressure lawmakers to topple Macron’s government and scrap an unpopular retirement age hike he is seeking without a vote in the National Assembly.

Lawmakers on the right and left filed motions of no confidence against her cabinet on Friday, after Prime Minister Elizabeth Bourne invoked a special constitutional power to skirt a vote in a chaotic lower house. A vote on the proposal is scheduled for Monday.

Some Paris residents who went out to buy their weekend baguettes blamed Macron’s administration for the smoke rising from garbage piled near a bakery in the city’s 12th arrondissement.

“The government should change its position and listen to the people because what is happening is very serious. And we are seeing a radicalization,” said Isabel Vergriet, 64, a psychologist. “The government is largely responsible for this.”

The district’s mayor, Emmanuel Pierre-Marie, emerged from the crack of dawn to express concern about the consequences of uncollected garbage in his neighborhood, which has become a sight and smell symbol of the move to defeat the president’s pension reform plan.

“Food waste is our priority because that’s what brings the pests to the surface,” says Pierre-Marie. “We are very sensitive to the situation. As soon as we have a dumpster truck, we prioritize the most concerned places, like food markets.”

More labor strikes were planned for Monday in numerous sectors, from transport to energy. Civil aviation authorities have asked to cancel 30% of flights to Orly, Paris’ second airport, and 20% to Marseille.

Trade union confederation CGT warned that at least two oil refineries could be shut down from Monday. Industry Minister Roland Lescure said the government could request workers – ordering workers back to their posts – to avoid fuel shortages.

Macron has argued that French people need to work for two more years to boost the country’s economy and prevent its pension system from falling into deficit as the population ages.

Laurent Berger, head of the centrist CFDT union, said the pension reform “must be withdrawn.”

“We condemn violence. … But look at the anger. It is very strong, even among our ranks,” he said on RMC radio.

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