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King Charles visit to France postponed amid pension bill protests


LONDON — A state visit by Britain’s King Charles III to France, set to be the first official trip of his reign, has been postponed, the French president’s office said Friday as protests over raising the retirement age rock the country.

The announcement came after protesters flooded streets across France on Thursday, clashing with police in Paris and other cities in a burst of defiance after French President Emmanuel Macron pushed through a pension reform bill.

As French labor unions call for another round of nationwide mobilization on Tuesday, the visit by Charles that was scheduled to begin Sunday has been postponed, Macron’s office said in an email. It said the trip would soon be rescheduled, without specifying a new date.

France strikes intensify as anger mounts over retirement age hike

The Élysée statement said the French and British governments made the decision, after Macron and the British monarch held a phone call, “to be able to welcome His Majesty King Charles III under conditions that are suitable to our friendly relations.”

The French government’s move to hike the minimum retirement age, from 62 to 64, has fueled anger for weeks. Strikes brought trains to a halt as walkouts by trash collectors leave heaps of garbage to pile up on the streets of Paris.

More than a million people, including rail workers and teachers, marched peacefully against the legislation on Thursday, largely peacefully. But protests then spiraled into clashes in several cities including Rennes and Nantes, with riot police using water cannons and tear gas. Protesters smashed storefronts and lit trash on fire, while others lit the door to city hall on fire in Bordeaux — where Charles was scheduled to make a stop during his visit.

In the face of broad public opposition, Macron has defended the legislation as the only viable way to protect the future of the country’s pension system.

The French president had been preparing to host Charles and his wife Camilla, Queen Consort, from Sunday to Wednesday next week, before the royal pair were scheduled to continue on to Germany. The visit to Germany is expected to proceed as planned.

Macron defends move to raise retirement age as protests roil France

On the trip, which officials in both countries would have been planning for months, the royals were expected to join Macron and his wife for events that included a banquet at the Chateau de Versailles. Protesters have seized on the choice of that venue with signs and slogans portraying it as a symbol of the excesses and detachment of the elite.

Striking workers also refused to roll out a red carpet for the king’s visit, in opposition to the pension bill and in solidarity with workers on strike in Britain over wages and other grievances.

French union CGT said this week that its members at the agency which provides red carpets, flags and furniture would not take part, prompting officials to say that others would handle the customary arrangements for the monarch’s arrival, according to French media.

Buckingham Palace confirmed on Friday the postponement of the France trip. “Their Majesties greatly look forward to the opportunity to visit France as soon as dates can be found,” the palace said in a statement.

The choice of France and Germany as the British monarch’s first official trip abroad was seen in Britain as part of efforts to help mend relations with other European nations, which have been strained in the post-Brexit years. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak met Macron in Paris earlier this month at the first Anglo-France summit in half a decade.

Rick Noack and Karla Adam contributed to this report.

*This story has not been edited by The Infallible staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.