French protests set fire to restaurant favoured by Macron

Thousands protest in violent clashes across France amid pensions reform

Protesters march for the 11th day after the French government pushed a pensions reform through parliament without a vote. AFP
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French security forces clashed with protesters on Thursday in a new show of anger against Emmanuel Macron's pension reforms - with even one of the president's favourite restaurants caught up in the unrest.

With a key court ruling due next week, unions are seeking to maintain pressure regarding the overhaul, which includes raising the retirement age from 62 to 64 and demanding people work longer for a full payout.

The changes are the biggest challenge of Mr Macron's second term and he has defiantly refused to budge, despite his personal popularity ratings sliding.

Scuffles broke out in the afternoon in several cities, including in Paris, where some radical protesters briefly set fire to the awning of a restaurant favoured by the President.

Staff at La Rotonde, where Mr Macron held a victory party during his winning campaign for the presidency in 2017, were forced to put out flames at the eatery.

Among the crowd, some hardline protesters pelted paint on the shields of heavily equipped policemen outside the famous brasserie.

Demonstrations were held across the country, with people brandishing placards or waving union flags from Paris to the southern cities of Montpellier and Marseille.

“We haven't given up yet and we don't intend to,” said 50-year-old public servant Davy Chretien as he marched in Marseille.

The CGT union claimed 400,000 people had turned up to the Paris protest, down slightly on the figure it gave for last week's protests.

French protesters set fire to restaurant visited by Macron - video

French protesters set fire to restaurant visited by Macron

French protesters set fire to restaurant visited by Macron

Elsewhere in Paris, protesters attacked a bank branch, breaking glass and carrying off files and computer keyboards, an AFP correspondent reported.

Some threw projectiles at police, who responded with tear gas. The Paris police headquarters said that there had been injuries among officers but could not immediately name a figure.

Striking railway workers also briefly stormed the former headquarters of the Credit Lyonnais bank, a building that now houses companies including the BlackRock investment firm.

About 20 people were arrested in the capital, police said.

In the western city of Nantes, several protesters threw rocks at police, who also used tear gas, an AFP photographer reported.

But other rallies appeared largely peaceful, with several featuring dancing demonstrators or brass bands.

Unions hoped for a mass turnout on the 11th day of action since January, after signs the protest movement was starting to lose momentum.

On Thursday, the Paris metro system for the first time on a strike day experienced minimal disruption, and across the country, only one in four high-speed trains was cancelled.

The education ministry said only 8 per cent of schoolteachers were on strike.

Many of the protests turned violent after Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne invoked on March 16 a controversial executive power to force the bill through parliament without a vote.

All sides in the stand-off are awaiting an April 14 verdict on the validity of the reform by France's Constitutional Council, which has the power to strike out some or even all of the legislation.

Demonstrators march during the protest in Paris.  AP

Protests have no sway over council members, known as the “wise ones”, but unions want to keep up their momentum.

“We're in the middle of a social crisis, a democratic crisis,” Laurent Berger, head of the centrist CFDT union, told RTL radio.

“It's a problem … that needs to be solved by the President.”

France's eight main labour unions said a meeting with Ms Borne on Wednesday, the first since January, was a “failure” after she refused to discuss going back on the minimum retirement age of 64.

The government has argued that working longer is necessary to prevent the pension system from plunging into deficit.

In the rest of Europe, people mostly retire in their late 60s as life expectancy has increased.

Critics say the pension reform is unfair for people in tough jobs who start working early, as well as women who interrupt their careers to raise children.

If the Constitutional Council gives its green light, Mr Macron will be able to sign the changes into law.

But the stand-off has eroded his popularity, with a poll from the Elabe group suggesting on Wednesday that far-right leader Marine Le Pen would beat him if the presidential election of last year were repeated now.

About 64 per cent of people still support the anti-pension reform protests, polling firm Odoxa found in a survey published Thursday — little changed from previous weeks.

Updated: April 07, 2023, 9:48 AM