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Protesters step up France strikes over Macron’s retirement-age raise

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Strikes brought trains to a halt in French cities and protesters flooded the streets, sometimes clashing with police, on Thursday after President Emmanuel Macron pledged to implement legislation raising the retirement age.

Transport employees, teachers and workers around the country marched against the pension law, which raises the minimum retirement age by two years to 64. Riot police clashed with protesters in cities including Bordeaux, Rennes and Nantes, as people chanted and lit flares outside Gare du Nord train station in Paris.

Labor unions are trying to raise the pressure on the government, a day after Macron gave a television interview that stoked their anger. The president doubled down on the pension overhaul as the best way to ensure the future of France’s generous pension system, in part due to rising life expectancy, and said those opposed needed to face reality.

Macron defends move to raise retirement age as protests roil France

The government’s use of executive powers to push the bill through has intensified a standoff with unions, which have drawn huge crowds since January but so far failed to get Macron to change course.

Rail workers marched onto the tracks at Paris’s Gare de Lyon on Thursday and at the train station in Marseille, where the local branch of a rail workers union vowed to block trains from running until the pension plan is withdrawn.

The country’s civil aviation body warned of disruptions to flights into and out of airports for Paris, Marseille, Bordeaux and Lyon, urging passengers to delay their travel and contact airlines.

Outside Paris’s Charles de Gaulle airport, protesters blocked a highway leading to one of the terminals of one of Europe’s busiest airports. The blockade forced some travelers to reach the airport on foot, the French channel BFM TV reported.

As tourist attractions including the Eiffel Tower and the Versailles Palace closed, Transportation Minister Clement Beaune tweeted that officials were meeting at a crisis center to monitor public transport disruptions “hour by hour.”

Rolling strikes have also disrupted access to refineries and walkouts by trash collectors have left heaps of garbage bags spilling out onto the sidewalks in Paris this month.

Thursday’s industrial action drew people of a variety of ages, backgrounds and professions, with young people marching shoulder-to-shoulder with older protesters closer to retirement age.

The Education Ministry estimated about a quarter of middle school teachers and roughly 15 percent of high school teachers went on strike. Students joined in cities including Nantes, where one protester held a sign that read “Sign-makers on strike.” Another picket sign featured a drawing of a skeleton that said “Long live retirement.”

Photos and videos from Nantes and Rennes in western France showed police using water cannons and tear gas, and protesters lighting trash on fire.

French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin has said he ordered the deployment of nearly 12,000 police officers, including 5,000 in Paris on Thursday. Some earlier protests turned into clashes with police, who detained scores of people in recent days, although few were ultimately charged.

After the government passed the pension bill through the lower house of Parliament without a vote last week, the text now faces a review from the Constitutional Council. Still, Macron says the law should come into effect by the end of the year.

Since his government survived two no-confidence votes this week, the test now is whether Macron’s determination can outlast the unions’ ability to bring pressure to bear on the streets.

“Yesterday, the president of the Republic mocked us,” said Marie Buisson, a senior official in the CGT union confederation, which is at the heart of the strikes.

“We will continue” even if the bill is adopted “because what we refuse is this reform that forces everyone to work for two extra years,” she said on the radio. “You can clearly see the enormous anger out there.”

France protests: What to know as Macron forces a retirement-age hike

The CGT branch in Marseille said it estimated 280,000 people were protesting Thursday in the southern port city alone, while French media cited police as giving a far lower estimate of 16,000 protesters in Marseille.

Labor Minister Olivier Dussopt said authorities were not in denial about the crisis but hoped to resolve it. “There are many subjects which could allow for renewing a dialogue,” he said, including the way in which companies share profits with workers.

“I don’t believe at all that from one day to the next, within 12 to 24 hours, that we could pass from a state of conflict to an entente,” he added. “Things will be done gradually.”



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

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