Black-clad groups set fire to garbage cans and threw projectiles at police in Paris, who charged at them and threw teargas in confrontations on the fringes of a march against President Emmanuel Macron and his deeply unpopular pension bill.
Clashes also erupted on Tuesday at similar rallies in other cities including Rennes, Bordeaux, and Toulouse, with a bank branch and cars set ablaze in Nantes.
However, while public frustration has evolved into broader anti-Macron sentiment, there was less violence than last week and rallies were otherwise largely peaceful.
Earlier in the day, the government rejected unions’ demand to suspend and rethink the pension bill, which raises the retirement age by two years to 64, infuriating labor leaders who said the government must find a way out of the crisis.
The government said it was more than willing to talk to unions, but on other topics, and repeated it would stand firm on pensions. Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne has offered to meet unions on Monday and Tuesday next week.
Millions of people have been demonstrating and joining strike action since mid-January to show their opposition to the bill. Unions said the next nationwide day of protests would be on April 6.
The protests have intensified since the government used special powers to push the bill through parliament without a vote.
One protester in Paris captured the mood, brandishing a banner that read: “France is angry.”
“The bill has acted as a catalyst for anger over Macron’s policies,” said Fanny Charier, 31, who works for the Pole Emploi office for job seekers.
Macron, who promised pension reform in both of his presidential campaigns, says change is needed to keep the country’s finances in balance. Unions and opposition parties say there are other ways to do that.
“We have proposed a way out … and it’s intolerable that we are being stonewalled again,” the head of the CFDT union, Laurent Berger, told reporters at the Paris rally.
In the previous big day of protests on Thursday, “Black Bloc” anarchists smashed shop windows, demolished bus stops, and ransacked a McDonald’s restaurant in Paris, with similar acts in other cities.
That was some of the worst street violence in years in France, reminiscent of protests of the yellow-vest movement during Macron’s first term.
On Tuesday, rallies were more peaceful, despite some clashes.
In the western city of Nantes, the boarded-up front of a BNP Paribas bank branch was set on fire. A car was set on fire in the margins of the rally, while some shot fireworks at police.
Also in western France, protesters blocked the Rennes ring road and set an abandoned car on fire. In Paris and in Marseille, protesters blocked train tracks for a while.
Rolling strikes in the transport, aviation, and energy sectors continued to disrupt travel.
However, in a move bringing some relief for Parisians and tourists alike, city garbage collectors said they were suspending a weeks-long strike that has left the roads around famous landmarks strewn with piles of trash.
There were also fewer teachers on strike than on previous days. Union leaders said high inflation made it harder for workers to sacrifice a day’s pay on the picket line.
The Interior Ministry said 740,000 people had protested across the country on Tuesday, well below the record 1.09 million seen at the March 23 rally. The numbers in Paris were also below last week’s record but higher or equal to earlier demonstrations since January.
Nonetheless, about 17% of all fuel stations in France were missing at least one product as of Monday night, France’s petroleum association UFIP said, citing energy ministry data.
Charles de Courson, from the opposition Liot party, said French authorities should learn from the situation in Israel, where the government just hit pause on a controversial justice overhaul.
Copyright 2023 Thomson/Reuters