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PROTESTS

IN PICTURES: Thousands of people take part in anti-fascism protests across France

Several hundred thousand people took to the streets across France to protest against far-right leader Marine Le Pen ahead of the presidential election next weekend.

A protestor holds a placard which translates as 'nor Macron, nor Le Pen - but especially not Le Pen'
A protestor holds a placard which translates as 'nor Macron, nor Le Pen - but especially not Le Pen' during a demonstration 'against racism and fascism' in Paris on April 16, 2022. (Photo by GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT / AFP)

There are several demonstrations taking place across France on Saturday, but this union-organisation protest had been expected to be the largest.

Jointly organised by the League of Human Rights with several unions (CGT, FSE, FSU, FAGE, Unef) the protest was organised to express anger over the presence of far-right leader Marine Le Pen in the second round of the presidential election.

The demo started at 2pm on Saturday at Place de la Nation, moving to Place de la République.

A spokesman said: “The extreme right is once again present in the second round of the presidential election, with an unprecedented level of votes. We refuse to see it come to power.”

Organisers had also called for demonstrations across France.

A protestor waves a flag as he marches with others during a demonstration ‘against racism and fascism’ in Paris on April 16, 2022. (Photo by GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT / AFP)

A protestor holds a placard which translates as ‘down with the state, down with money, long live the commune, universal humanity and emancipation’ during the demonstration (Photo by GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT / AFP)
 

French gendarmes hold riot shields as they gather during the demonstration . (Photo by GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT / AFP)

Protestors hold a banner reading ‘Against the far-right’ during a demonstration against racism and fascism in Perpignan, southern France, on April 16, 2022. (Photo by RAYMOND ROIG / AFP)

A protestor (R) holds a banner reading ‘Voting for Le Pen is not worth it’ during a demonstration ‘against racism and fascism’ near Marseille’s prefecture, on April 16, 2022. (Photo by CLEMENT MAHOUDEAU / AFP)

Protestors shout slogans during the demonstration in Marseille. (Photo by CLEMENT MAHOUDEAU / AFP)

Protestors holds a banner reading ‘no to the far-right, for justice and equality’ in the demonstration in Marseille. (Photo by CLEMENT MAHOUDEAU / AFP)
 

Protestors shout anti-fascist slogans in front of riot mobile gendarmes during a demonstration at the Vieux Port in Marseille, on April 16, 2022. (Photo by CLEMENT MAHOUDEAU / AFP)
 

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POLITICS

Macron vs the unions: What happens next in France?

French President Emmanuel Macron is facing his biggest standoff with France's trade unions since coming to power in 2017, with the outcome of a series of strikes and protests seen as decisive for both sides.

Macron vs the unions: What happens next in France?

The 45-year-old leader has made raising the retirement age a signature domestic policy of his second term in office — something the unions and millions of protesters are determined to block.

After two days of nationwide strikes and demonstrations, AFP looks at what is likely to happen next on the streets, in parliament, inside the government, and in wider French public opinion.

On the streets

Labour leaders were delighted with their second day of protests on Tuesday, which they claimed had seen around 2.5 million people hit the streets, including in many small and medium-sized towns.

Official estimates put the figure at 1.27 million, compared to 1.1 million people during round one on January 19th, according to the interior ministry.

READ MORE: Calendar: The latest French pension strike dates to remember

Momentum is clearly with the unions who announced two further days of protests and strikes next week, on Tuesday and Saturday.

“The movement is growing and spread across the whole country,” the head of the hard-left CGT union, Philippe Martinez, said on Wednesday.

Nevertheless, unions no longer have the ability to paralyse the country and working-from-home practices mean most white-collar workers can easily adjust to transport stoppages.

The biggest fear of authorities is a repeat of the 2018 so-called “Yellow Vest” protests — a spontaneous movement drawn mostly from the countryside and small-town France that led to shockingly violent clashes with police. 

“The trauma was so big and the violence so great, I don’t see it happening again for the moment,” Bruno Cautres from Sciences Po university in Paris told AFP earlier this month. 

In government 

The government was expecting a rough ride — few major policy changes happen in France without protests, and former president Nicolas Sarkozy faced similar resistance with his pension reform in 2010.

Macron has faced numerous challenges from the unions in the past and has always succeeded in pushing through his pro business agenda and social security reforms.

The only exception was his first attempt at pension reform — also highly contested — which he withdrew in 2020 during the Covid 19 pandemic.

Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne has been the public face of the latest proposals, while Macron has kept his statements and appearances to a minimum, as is his habit.

But with the battle lines hardening and protests growing, the president might be forced to enter the fray. 

“I think the president will speak, but not right now,” a minister told AFP on condition of anonymity. “If he did it now, it would look like we’re panicking.”

In parliament

The draft legislation will be debated for the first time in the 577-seat National Assembly from Monday.

Macron’s allies are the largest group with 170 seats, but they do not hold a majority after a weaker-than-expected showing in June elections.

Support from the 62 rightwing Republicans (LR) party MPs will be essential.

LR has long supported raising the retirement age, but there are doubts over how many of their MPs will give the government their backing.

“I’m not asking the government to give in to the protests. This reform needs to be done,” LR parliamentary party chief Olivier Marleix said on Wednesday.

The lower house debate will finish on February 17th at the latest when a vote can be called — or the government could transfer it to the Senate or ram it through with controversial executive powers that dispense with the need for a ballot.

The bill is expected to pass the conservative-dominated Senate, where a vote is to take place by mid-March.

Public opinion

The latest polling figures show a growing majority opposes the reform and supports the protests, with roughly two in three people against the proposals.

Ministers have struggled to find winning arguments, at times arguing the changes are needed to reduce government spending, at others insisting they will make the pension system fairer.

“The government has not won with the argument that it is necessary,” Bernard Sananes, the head of the Elabe polling group, told AFP. “And it is fighting on another, more intense front which is that the reform is seen as unfair.”

In private, Macron’s allies insist their best hope is for parliament to quickly approve the legislation that will never be popular but might grudgingly be accepted as necessary.

“The question is how big the protest movement will be and how long it will last,” the minister told AFP.

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