Protesters blocked a key highway around the French capital and escalated strikes at refineries on Friday in a new show of anger after President Emmanuel Macron pushed through a contentious pension reform without a parliamentary vote.
Macron’s move sparked protests across the country on Thursday night, with more than 300 people arrested nationwide, according to the interior minister. On Friday morning, some 200 protesters briefly blocked traffic on the ring road outside the capital.
Soumaya Gentet, 51, a CGT union member from supermarket chain Monoprix, said she was incensed and would continue to protest until the bill was revoked. “They’re not taking into account what the people want,” she said.
Her colleague Lamia Kerrouzi agreed. “Macron doesn’t give a fig about the people,” she said. “He doesn’t understand the language of the people. It needs to be repealed.”
In the energy sector, strikers were to halt production at a large refinery by this weekend or Monday at the latest, CGT union representative Eric Sellini said.
Workers had already been on a rolling strike at the northern site TotalEnergies de Normandie, but halting production would escalate the industrial action.
Strikers continued to deliver less fuel than normal from several other sites, he added.
The government on Thursday afternoon invoked a controversial constitutional power to impose the pension overhaul by decree, sparking protests outside parliament in Paris as well as in several other cities.
Police officers stand in fronf of fireworks fired by protesters during a demonstration after the French government pushed a pensions reform through parliament without a vote, using the article 49,3 of the constitution, in Lyon on March 16, 2023. — AFP
The ensuing unrest saw 310 people arrested around France, including 258 in Paris, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin told RTL radio. “The opposition is legitimate, the protests are legitimate, but wreaking havoc is not,” he said.
A couple of thousand protesters massed opposite parliament on Thursday to protest the move. In the evening, several clashed with police, who moved in to arrest some on suspicion of seeking to cause damage.
Similar scenes unfolded across France.
Several stores were looted during protests in Marseille while clashes between demonstrators and security forces also erupted in the western cities of Nantes and Rennes as well as Lyon in the southeast, according to AFP correspondents.
A photograph taken on March 17, 2023 in Paris’ 9th district, shows rubbish on a street as rubbish collectors strike against pension reforms, leaving many streets in the capital piled with stinking waste. — AFP
An AFP photographer on Friday morning saw damage including a burnt-out public bicycle, shattered shop window, and scorched car in Paris.
The government imposed the pensions bill, which seeks to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64, despite two months of coordinated nationwide strikes and some of the biggest protests in decades.