On Thursday, police in Paris and across France clashed with violent black-clad anarchists firing tear gas at protestors who were marching against President Emmanuel Macron’s plan to raise the pension age. It was the ninth day of nationwide protests, mostly peaceful, that disrupted train and air travel. The demonstrations were generally peaceful in central Paris, but groups of “Black Bloc” anarchists smashed shop windows, demolished street furniture and ransacked a McDonald’s restaurant. The clashes ensued as riot police drove back the anarchists with tear gas and stun grenades.
According to Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin, 149 police officers were injured, and 172 people were arrested across the country. Dozens of protestors were also injured, including a woman who lost a thumb in the Normandy town of Rouen. Small groups continued to clash with police in Paris late into the night, lighting fires throughout the city center and playing cat-and-mouse with security forces.
Labour unions fear protests could turn more violent if the government does not heed mounting popular anger over pension curbs. “This is a response to the falsehoods expressed by the president and his incomprehensible stubbornness,” Marylise Leon, deputy secretary general of the CFDT union, said. “The responsibility of this explosive situation lies not with the unions but with the government.”
The main entrance of the Bordeaux town hall was set ablaze on Thursday, days before the monarch was due to walk through on his visit to the southwestern city. On Wednesday, Macron broke weeks of silence on the new policy, insisting the law would come into force by year-end. He compared protests to the Jan. 6, 2021, storming of the U.S. Capitol.
Opinion polls have long shown a majority of voters oppose the pension legislation. Anger mounted last week when the government rammed the changes through the lower house of parliament without a vote. The French Interior Ministry said 1.089 million protested across the country, including 119,000 in the capital which was a record since protests started in January. The CGT union said 3.5 million people marched in the country, equalling a previous high on March 7.
“I came here because I oppose this reform, and I really oppose the fact that democracy no longer means anything,” Sophie Mendy, an administrative medical worker, told Reuters at the Paris rally. “We’re not being represented, and so we’re fed up.”
The unions called for regional action over the weekend and new nationwide strikes and protests on March 28, the day Britain’s King Charles is due to travel to Bordeaux from Paris by train.