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Retirement Issue: France braces for weekend of protests

PARIS: France on Saturday braced for a weekend of protests after a second night of unrest sparked by President Emmanuel Macron imposing an unpopular pension overhaul without a parliament vote.

Macron’s government on Thursday invoked a controversial executive power to force through the bill by decree, something that is legal under France’s constitution.

The move has caused outrage among the political class as well as angry protests in the street, presenting the president with one of his biggest challenges less than a year into his second and final mandate.

Opposition lawmakers have filed two motions of no confidence in the government to be debated in parliament on Monday afternoon, according to parliamentary sources.

They hope to garner enough support to topple the cabinet and repeal the law to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64.

Unions have called for protests over the weekend ahead of another day of coordinated nationwide strikes and rallies against the bill on Thursday.

A peaceful rally kicked off on Saturday in the town of Compiegne north of Paris and demonstration was planned in the capital for 6 pm local time (1700 GMT).

– Overnight unrest –

Thousands of people rallied in Paris opposite parliament on Friday to vent their frustration at the government imposing the reform, despite two months of strikes and demonstrations against the change.

Police moved in to disperse the crowd at nightfall, after a fire was lit in Place de la Concorde, journalists said.

Groups of people threw bottles and fireworks at the security forces, who responded by firing tear gas to try to clear the square.

Police said they made 61 arrests.

In the southeastern city of Lyon, demonstrators tried to break into a town hall and set fire to the building, said police, who reported 36 arrests.

Opinion polls have shown around two-thirds of French people oppose the reform, which is also to require people to work longer for a full pension.

The government has said it is necessary to avoid the system from slipping into deficit, and bring France into line with its European neighbours where the legal retirement age is typically later in life.

But critics say the changes are unfair for people who start working at a young age in physically tough jobs, and women who interrupt their careers to raise children.

– Trash strike –

Protests since mid-January have garnered some of the largest crowds in decades, but the popular movement seemed to be starting to wane in the days before the government imposed the bill.

The capital’s municipal rubbish collectors have however kept up a rolling strike, leaving an estimated 10,000 tonnes of trash festering in the streets, putting off tourists and worrying restaurant owners.

Unions from national train operator SNCF on Friday urged workers to continue another continuous strike that has caused major disruption on the network.

In the energy sector, the CGT union has said strikers would halt production at two refineries by this weekend or Monday at the latest.

Macron put the pension reform at the centre of his re-election campaign last year.

But the 45-year-old former banker lost his parliamentary majority in June after elections for the National Assembly.

The government used the controversial article 49.3 of the constitution on Thursday as it feared not having enough backing in the lower house to win a vote on the pensions bill.

But Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne’s cabinet is largely expected to survive any no-confidence vote.

The motion would need backing from around half the group of opposition right-wing Republicans, a scenario seen as highly improbable.


M M Alam

M. M. Alam is a Pakistan-based working journalist since 1981. Karachi University faculty gold medalist Alam began his career four decades ago by writing for Dawn, Pakistan’s highest circulating English daily. He has worked for region’s leading publications, global aviation periodicals including Rotors (of USA) and vetted New York Times as permanent employee of daily Express Tribune. Alam regularly covers international aviation and defense-related events including Salon Du Bourget (France), Farnborough (United Kingdom), Dubai (UAE). Alam has reported thousands of events and interviewed hundreds of people in Pakistan, UAE, EU, UK and USA. Being Francophone Alam also coordinates with a number of French publications.