Protesters clashed with security forces across France on Monday as hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets on Labor Day to express their anger at President Emmanuel Macron’s pension reform.
Unions were hoping for broad nationwide turnout to further rattle Macron, who was met with belittling and jeers as he traveled the country to defend reforms and relaunch his second term.
Macron signed legislation last month to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64, despite months of strikes against the bill.
At least 108 police officers were injured and 291 people arrested across France as violence erupted in several towns on the sidelines of major union marches, Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin told reporters.
In Paris, radical protesters hurled projectiles at police and smashed storefronts of businesses such as banks and real estate agents, with security forces responding with tear gas and water cannons, correspondents said. AFP.
As police sought to break up the protest at its end point, some individuals created a fire that spread to a building and prompted firefighters to respond.
– ‘Extremely rare’ –
Police had been given the last-minute green light to use drones as a security measure after a Paris court rejected a request from rights groups not to use them.
Security forces deployed tear gas in Toulouse, southern France, as tensions erupted during protests, while four cars were set on fire in the southeastern city of Lyon.
In the western city of Nantes, police also fired tear gas after protesters threw projectiles, AFP correspondents said. The windows of the Uniqlo clothing store were smashed.
Protesters briefly occupied the luxury InterContinental hotel in the southern city of Marseille, smashing flower pots and damaging furniture.
“In many cities in France, May Day was a moment of responsible mobilization and commitment. The scenes of violence on the sidelines of the demonstrations are all the more unacceptable,” Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne wrote on Twitter.
Darmanin added that such a high number of police officers injured was “extremely rare” for a May Day protest day.
He said a police officer who was hit by a Molotov cocktail had been burned on his face and hands but his life was not in danger.
Some 782,000 people demonstrated across France, including 112,000 in Paris alone, the interior ministry said. The CGT union said it had counted 2.3 million protesters across France, including 550,000 in the capital.
Turnout was massively higher than on May Day last year, but lower than the biggest protests seen against pension reform this year.
– ‘Always very strong’ –
Macron and his government have been trying to shake off months of popular discontent, hoping to relaunch his second term after the reform is enacted.
“The page will not turn until there is no withdrawal from this pension reform. The determination to win is intact,” said CGT president Sophie Binet during the Paris demonstration.
“The mobilization is still very, very strong,” added Laurent Berger, head of the CFDT union.
“It’s a sign that resentment and anger are not diminishing.”
Monday marked the first time since 2009 that France’s eight main unions have joined the call to protest.
– “Red card” to Macron –
France has been rocked by a dozen days of nationwide strikes and protests against Macron and his pension changes since mid-January, some of which have turned violent.
When Macron attended the French soccer Cup final on Saturday, he was greeted by activists waving red cards.
Nearly three in four French people were unhappy with Macron, according to a survey by the IFOP polling group published last month.
Borne, with Macron’s backing, invoked the constitution’s controversial Article 49.3 in March to push pension reform through parliament without a vote in the lower house.
On the Place de la République where the Parisian march began, a huge vest with the slogan “Macron resigns” was attached to the giant statue symbolizing the French Republic at its center.
“The law has been passed but has not been accepted, there is a desire to peacefully demonstrate discontent to have a reaction in response that shows a certain level of decency,” said Céline Bertoni, 37, a university student in Clermont. -Center. Ferrand.
Smaller scale and less turbulent May Day protests took place across Europe, including in Spain where flag-waving demonstrators joined more than 70 rallies under the slogan: ‘Raise wages, lower prices and share the profits”.
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(This story has not been edited by News18 staff and is published from a syndicated news agency feed)