Clashes in cities as France faces last-ditch bid to derail pensions overhaul

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Clashes in cities as France faces last-ditch bid to derail pensions overhaul
French gendarmes stand in tear gas during confrontations on the sidelines of a demonstration on the 14th day of pension strikes. Photo by Sebastien SALOM-GOMIS / AFP

There were minor clashes in several French cities on Tuesday as left-wing groups and unions staged a 14th day of strikes to try to derail President Emmanuel Macron's pensions overhaul, insisting that the fight to thwart the changes is not over even after it became law.


Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets across France for what will be the fourteenth day of  demonstrations since January to oppose the reform.

Although the demos were largely peaceful, minor clashes were reported in several cities as the marches neared their end-points, with tear gas used in Paris and Nantes while projectiles were thrown as police in Bordeaux.

In Paris, the march was temporarily halted at Montparnasse after trouble flared and windows were smashed, including at a Burger King.


Earlier in the day, around 60 members of the hardline CGT union briefly occupied the offices of the organising committee for the 2024 Paris Olympic Games in northern Paris, chanting there would be "no Games" if the law was not pulled.

Macron signed in April the bill to raise the pension age to 64 from 62 after the government used a controversial but legal mechanism to avoid a vote in parliament that it risked losing.

The later retirement age, which seeks to bolster France's troubled long-term finances, was a banner pledge of Macron's second and final term in office, and its smooth implementation is seen by supporters as crucial to his legacy.

Parts of the overhaul, including the key increase in the pension age, were printed on Sunday in France's official journal, meaning they are now law.

READ MORE: Protests and flight cancellations: What to expect from Tuesday's French pension strike

Opponents are pinning their hopes on a motion put forward by the small Liot faction in parliament - broadly backed by the left - to repeal the law and the increased retirement age.

Parliament speaker Yael Braun-Pivet, a member of Macron's party but officially neutral, was to rule on Thursday whether parliament could vote on returning the retirement age to 62.

This was removed from the Liot motion at commission level, but left-wing parties have sought to put it back on the agenda via an amendment.

'Increase in anger and violence'

In an op-ed for the Le Monde daily on Monday, the key figures from all of France's left-wing parties urged Braun-Pivet to allow a vote on the motion, at the risk of further unrest.


"For our fellow citizens, a new denial of democracy will only lead to increased disaffection for our institutions, which is already manifesting itself in the form of growing abstentionism, and even an increase in anger and violence," they said.

Authorities expect up to 600,000 people at the demonstrations nationwide on Tuesday, less than half the peak on March 7th, when 1.28 million were counted by police.

In contrast to the earlier phase of the movement, the strikes caused only limited disruption, although some flights were cancelled.

READ MORE: Which French airports will be hit by cancellations during Tuesday's strike?

"The defeat is not a foregone conclusion," Greens MP Sandrine Rousseau told Radio J, warning that "we will raise our voices" if the parliament vote is not allowed.

The battle against the pensions reform "will never finish", hard-left leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon told the 20 Minutes daily.

But Macron's allies say it has long been game over for opponents of the reform, even if it remains widely unpopular with the public.


The opposition "knows very well that this motion has no future," Prisca Thevenot, an MP for Macron's Renaissance party, told LCI television on Sunday.

The government says the changes are essential for France's financial health.

In April, Fitch, one of the leading credit ratings agencies, lowered its rating on France's debt, which is approaching €3 trillion.

But France managed to avoid a new credit downgrade on Friday, when S&P Global maintained the agency's "AA" rating.


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