French police use batons and tear gas in response to pension protests

French firefighters during a demonstration near Place de la Concorde in Paris after the French government pushed a pensions reform through parliament without a vote on March 16, 2023. (Photo: Thomas Samson/AFP)

Thousands of protesters gathered in central Paris to protest President Emmanuel Macron's pension reform. French riot police used batons, tear gas, and water cannons to clear the square of protesters.

As the fire was ignited in the heart of the historic square, police with drawn shields and batons advanced towards the Place de la Concorde on Thursday evening while others shot water cannons.

AFP France-Presse claimed that police used tear gas and baton charges to push the protestors back across the square and away from a bridge leading to the Palais Bourbon, the meeting venue of the National Assembly, France's lower house of Parliament.

France's Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin ordered police to implement "enhanced protective measures" for members of Parliament in response to the ongoing protests that have erupted as a result of President Macron's decision to bypass the French Parliament and push through a highly unpopular pension reform bill that would raise the retirement age from 62 to 64.

AFP claimed that police made eight arrests, while France Info cited police sources who stated 217 individuals were arrested due to unrest, notably at Place de la Concorde, where an estimated 6,000 protesters set fire to wooden pallets and flung objects at police officers.

Several French cities, including Marseille, Dijon, Nantes, Rennes, Rouen, Grenoble, Toulouse, and Nice, also witnessed the outbreak of protests.

Earlier on Thursday, in the face of opposition calls for a vote of no confidence, Macron's administration utilized a rare constitutional authority to pass the measure.

Left-leaning parliamentarians screamed and cried as Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne initiated the unusual procedure to get the bill through the National Assembly without a vote.

Article 49.3 of the French Constitution was invoked to assure the law's passage, but it also demonstrated that Macron and his government had failed to garner a sufficient majority in Parliament.

The far-right opposition of the nation has said that it would file a vote of no confidence in the administration.

The choice is a "complete disaster" for Macron, and Borne "cannot remain" in her position, according to Marine Le Pen, the far-right candidate in the last two presidential elections and current leader of the National Rally (RN) deputies in the French National Assembly.

According to the administration, the French leader wishes to raise the retirement age so that workers will contribute more money to a system that is on track to run a deficit. The measure is the crowning achievement of Macron's second time in office. Since January, his intention to raise the retirement age has triggered widespread strikes and protests.

‘Failure of politics’

Natacha Butler, reporting from outside the French Parliament for Al Jazeera, stated, "Forcing through a bill by decree is a rare occurrence and is viewed as a failure of politics in many ways."

Butler stated that demonstrators and labour groups have said they will continue to rally against the measure regardless of the outcome.

"According to opinion polls, ranging from two-thirds to three-quarters of the French population are opposed to a bill that they view as unfair and that they claim erodes their rights," Butler stated.

The French unions are planning another day of rallies and strikes against the pension change.

CGT union leader Catherine Perret stated at a news conference, "The united union front continues to demand the withdrawal of the reform and demands for another day of strikes and protests on Thursday, March 23."

When Borne, the prime minister, appeared at the National Assembly to announce the procedure, she was met with boos.

The session was paused for two minutes when Borne was prevented from speaking by left-leaning parliamentarians singing the national anthem.

During the resumption of the meeting, Borne took the floor. Nevertheless, her speech was mainly drowned out by boos, chanting, and screams of "resignation" from opposition members of Parliament in a rare display of chaos in the French Parliament.

The mood outside Parliament was tense as heavily armed guards and riot police surrounded the Palais Bourbon's surrounding neighbourhoods.

The Senate passed the bill by a vote of 193-114, which was mainly anticipated given that the conservative majority in the upper chamber favoured hiking the retirement age.

Macron's coalition lost its majority in Parliament last year, forcing the government to rely on conservative lawmakers to enact the bill.

Legislators on the far left and far right are opposed, and conservatives are divided, making the outcome unpredictable.

Publish : 2023-03-17 11:06:00

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