New protests in France over Macron plan to raise pension age

PARIS (AP) – Protesters opposing President Emmanuel Macron’s unpopular plan to raise the retirement age to 64 marched Thursday in cities and towns around France, in a final show of anger before a decision on whether the measure meets constitutional standards.

Hours before the Paris march got underway, protesters piled bags of garbage in front of the Constitutional Council, which is expected to decide Friday whether to nix any or all parts of the legislation.

The trash piles were cleaned up but signaled the start of a new strike by garbage collectors, timed to begin with the nationwide protest marches. A previous strike last month left the streets of the French capital filled for days with mounds of reeking refuse.

Security forces guarded the Constitutional Council, located near a stretch of the Paris march path, and Paris Police Chief Laurent Nunez inspected the site. Government spokesman Olivier Veran said the nine-member council needs calm to do its work.

“The mobilization is far from over,” the leader of the leftist CGT union, Sophie Binet, said at a trash incineration site south of Paris where several hundred protesters blocked garbage trucks. “As long as this reform isn’t withdrawn, the mobilization will continue in one form or another.”

CGT has been a backbone of the protest and strike movement challenging Macron’s plan to increase France’s retirement age from 62 to 64. Eight unions have organized protests since January in a rare voice of unity. Student unions have joined in.

Dozens of railway workers marched down a Paris street of luxury boutiques, protesting outside Louis Vuitton and luxury conglomerate LVMH before moving to the nearby Champs-Elysees Avenue.

“We must get out of this situation. And the best way is the withdrawal of the law, either by the Constitutional Council or by mobilization, which we want to maintain,” said Fabien Villedieu of the Sud-Rail Union as militants stoked fires outside the Gare de Lyon train station.

“We hope that there will be some intelligent people within Constitutional Council who will say, well, there are things happening in France. We have to find a way out,” he said, claiming Macron has been pouring gasoline on the flames of discontent.

Macron had initially refused a demand to meet with unions, but during a state visit on Wednesday to the Netherlands proposed “an exchange” to discuss the follow-up to the Constitutional Council decision. There was no formal response to his offer.

Thousands of people marched in Toulouse, in the southwest, and elsewhere. In Rennes, in western France, firefighters were seen in a video on BFM TV distinguishing flames of a burning car.

Unions hoped for a strong turnout Thursday to pressure both the government and the members of the Constitutional Council tasked with studying the text of the pension reform plan. Critics challenged the government’s choice to include the pension plan in a budget bill, which significantly accelerated the legislative process. The government’s decision to skirt a parliamentary vote by using special constitutional powers transformed opponents’ anger into fury.

Polls consistently show a majority of French people are opposed to the pension reform.

“The contention is strong, anchored in the people,” said Laurent Berger, head of the moderate CFDT union. If the measure is promulgated, “there will be repercussions,” he warned, noting the “silent anger” among the union rank and file.

Protests and labor strikes often hobble public transportation in Paris, but Metro trains were mostly running smoothly Thursday. The civil aviation authority asked airports in Toulouse, Bordeaux and Nantes to reduce air traffic by 20%.


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