French pension protests mostly calm down, uncollected rubbish is growing
PARIS (AP) – Some protests against President Emmanuel Macron’s plan to raise the retirement age in France from 62 to 64 took place on Saturday as uncollected rubbish continued to stank on the streets of Paris and beyond amid a strike by sanitation workers.
Largely non-violent protests have taken place in various French cities, including Nantes and Marseille, with protesters brushing past police to occupy the main train station for about 15 minutes. In the eastern city of Besançon, hundreds of protesters set fire to a brazier and burned voter cards.
In Paris, after two consecutive nights of unrest, an eerie calm returned to the French capital. Police banned further gatherings in Place de la Concorde, where protesters threw an effigy of Macron into a bonfire as crowds cheered on Friday night.
Police also banned gatherings on the Champs-Elysées, where some protesters set fires earlier in the week after officials urged protesters to disperse them.
More protests have been called in other parts of the French capital for Saturday night, but are expected to be smaller than the previous ones.
The protesters are trying to pressure lawmakers to overthrow Macron’s government and derail the unpopular increase in the retirement age he is trying to pass without a vote in the National Assembly.
After Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne invoked special constitutional powers to bypass a vote in the chaotic lower chamber, lawmakers from right and left tabled motions of no confidence in her cabinet on Friday. The motions will be voted on on Monday.
Some Parisians buying their baguettes for the weekend blamed Macron’s government for the fumes escaping garbage piled up near a bakery in the city’s 12th arrondissement.
“The government should change its position and listen to the people because what is happening is extremely serious. And we’re seeing radicalization,” said Isabelle Vergriette, 64, a psychologist. “The government is largely responsible for this.”
The mayor of the district, Emmanuelle Pierre-Marie, has been out since dawn voicing concerns in her neighborhood about the consequences of uncollected garbage, which has become a visual and olfactory symbol of the measures taken to defeat the president’s pension reform plan.
“Food waste is our priority because it brings pests to the surface,” said Pierre-Marie. “We are very sensitive to the situation. As soon as we have a dump truck available, we will prioritize the hardest hit locations, like grocery stores.”
More labor strikes are planned for Monday in a wide range of sectors, from transport to energy. The civil aviation authority called for the cancellation of 30% of flights at Paris’ second airport, Orly, and 20% at Marseille.
The trade union confederation CGT warned that at least two oil refineries could be closed from Monday. Industry Minister Roland Lescure said the government could requisition staff – workers back to their posts – to avoid fuel shortages.
Macron has argued that requiring people in France to work two more years is necessary to stimulate the country’s economy and prevent its pension system from running into deficit as it ages.
Laurent Berger, leader of the moderate CFDT union, said pension reform “must be withdrawn”.
“We condemn violence. … But look at the anger. It’s very strong, even within our ranks,” he said on RMC radio.
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The Associated Press