Riot police and protesters clashed for a second night in Paris as a new demonstration took place against the government’s plans to raise the French state pension age.
The growing opposition to the policy, which has resulted in a wave of strikes since the start of the year and rubbish piling up on the streets of the capital, has left President Emmanuel Macron with the gravest challenge to his authority since the gilets jaunes (yellow vest) protests of December 2018.
Reuters TV broadcast images of teargas being used by police to deal with crowd disorder as protesters gathered in Place de la Concorde, near the National Assembly parliament building.
“Macron, resign!” chanted some demonstrators, as they squared up to a line of riot police.
Friday night’s trouble followed similar disorder on Thursday, after Macron forced through the contested pension overhaul without a parliamentary vote. The move raises France’s state pension age by two years to 64, which the government says is essential to ensure the system does not go bust.
Unions, and most voters, disagree. The French are deeply attached to keeping the official retirement age at 62, which is among the lowest in OECD countries.
More than eight out of 10 people are unhappy with the government’s decision to bypass a parliamentary vote, and 65% want strikes and protests to continue, a Toluna Harris Interactive poll for RTL radio showed.
Going ahead without a vote “is a denial of democracy … a total denial of what has been happening in the streets for several weeks”, said Nathalie Alquier, a 52-year-old psychologist in Paris. “It’s just unbearable.”
A broad alliance of France’s main unions said they would continue their mobilisation to try to force a U-turn on the changes. Protests are planned for this weekend, with a day of nationwide industrial action scheduled for Thursday.
Teachers’ unions called for strikes next week, which could disrupt the emblematic baccalaureate secondary school exams.
While eight days of nationwide protests since mid-January, and many more local strikes, have been largely peaceful, the unrest on Thursday and Friday was reminiscent of the gilets jaunes protests in late 2018 over high fuel prices, which forced Macron into a partial U-turn on a carbon tax.
Leftwing and centrist opposition lawmakers filed a motion of no confidence in parliament on Friday afternoon.
But even though Macron lost his absolute majority in the lower house of parliament in elections last year, there was little chance this would go through – unless a surprise alliance of lawmakers from all sides is formed.
The leaders of the conservative Les Républicains party have ruled out such an alliance. None of them sponsored the first motion of no confidence filed on Friday. The far right was expected to file another later in the day.
Individual LR lawmakers have said they could break ranks, but the no-confidence bill would require the support of all the other opposition lawmakers and half of LR’s 61 lawmakers to go through.
The Berenberg chief economist, Holger Schmieding, said: “So far, French governments have usually won in such votes of no confidence.”
He said he expected it would be the same again this time even if “by trying to bypass parliament, Macron has already weakened his position”.
Votes in parliament were likely to take place over the weekend or on Monday.
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