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France BANS protests opposite parliament building as third night of demonstrations gets underway

Pedestrians react as they walk past a fire made of household waste containers during a demonstration in Bordeaux, southwestern France, on March 18, 2023


France has banned protests opposite the National Assembly in Paris as a third night of demonstrations against French President Emmanuel Macon’s pension reforms gets underway.

The Place de la Concorde public square that sits opposite the parliament building has seen crowds gathered and clashes with the police over the last couple of days.

Protesters have also ransacked and attempted to set fire to a town hall in Lyon, France, today during violent protests against the reforms.

Slogans like ‘Macron is done’ and ‘Power to the people’ were seen scrawled across Lyon’s City Hall early this morning after protesters tried to set it alight yesterday evening.

It comes as more protests are planned to continue in France over the weekend against the controversial reforms.

Pedestrians react as they walk past a fire made of household waste containers during a demonstration in Bordeaux, southwestern France, on March 18, 2023

A French police officer in riot gear stands next to a fire during a demonstration in Bordeaux, southwestern France, on March 18, 2023

Demonstrators attend a demonstration in Bordeaux, southwestern France, on March 18, 2023

Police said protesters ‘smashed down the door’ and went inside to ‘vandalise’ the town hall.

He added that ‘windows were smashed’ and there was an attempt to ‘burn the building down’. Police reported 36 arrests over the incident.

BFM television showed images of demonstrations underway in other cities, such as Compiegne in the north and Marseille in the south. Photographs have also emerged of waste containers set on fire in the streets of Bordeaux in the south west of France.

On Friday, fires were lit during a second night of rioting across other major cities and towns, including Paris.

Crowds chanting ‘Revolution!’ swarmed on to Place de la Concorde – the largest square in the French capital and the focal point of the protest movement.

Protesters are expressing anger after Macron bypassed a vote in the National Assembly – France’s equivalent of the House of Commons – to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64 on Thursday.

One protester said: ‘The measure is undemocratic but typical of a detested head of state.

‘There are all kinds of French citizens here, and we are voicing our opposition to his dictatorship.’

‘We will keep coming here every night until Macron backs down,’ said the demonstrator.

As he spoke, squads of riot police used tear gas and baton charges to try and clear the ancient square where French republicans once guillotined their aristocrats, including their last king and queen, Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.

Police said protesters ‘smashed down the door’ and went inside to ‘vandalise’ the town hall

Protesters have ransacked and attempted to set fire to a town hall in Lyon, France, during violent protests against French President Emmanuel Macron’s pension reforms today 

A man walks past a fire made of matresses and waste containers amid a demonstration in Bordeaux, southwestern France, on March 18, 2023

A demonstrator moves a mattress next to burning household waste containers during a demonstration in Bordeaux, southwestern France, on March 18, 2023

Demonstrators walk past a fire made of burning waste containers during a demonstration in Bordeaux, southwestern France, on March 18, 2023

People carry an object next to a fire during clashes at a demonstration to protest the use by French government of the article 49.3, a special clause in the French Constitution, to push the pensions reform bill through the National Assembly without a vote by lawmakers, in Nantes, France, on March 18, 2023

People attend a demonstration to protest the use by French government of the article 49.3, a special clause in the French Constitution, to push the pensions reform bill through the National Assembly without a vote by lawmakers, in Nantes, France, on March 18, 2023

Garbage overflowing in the streets of Paris due to the strike from the garbage collector related to the pension reform by the French government on March 18, 2023

Illustration and view of the garbage overflowing in the streets of Paris due to the strike from the garbage collector related to the pension reform by the French government on March 18, 2023

Earlier in the day, opposition parties tabled no-confidence votes against President Macron’s government.

A centrist bloc hoped for a cross-party motion to bring down the government headed by Elisabeth Borne, Macron’s prime minister.

The Government is expected to survive the National Assembly vote, to be held on Sunday or Monday, thanks to support for Macron’s Renaissance party from the conservative Republicans, but Macron’s authority has been badly damaged.

The no-confidence motion from the so-called Liot group of MPs reads: ‘This retirement reform has no social, popular or democratic legitimacy.

‘The vote on this motion will allow us to get out on top of a deep political crisis.’

Nupes, the left-wing opposition alliance, said it would vote for the motion, but the right-wing National Rally of Marine Le Pen said it was tabling a separate one.

French commentators have argued that Macron’s bypassing of parliament is an act of weakness that reinforces his image as an arrogant ruler.

Some have predicted the kind of eruption of popular anger that characterised the Yellow Vest – or Gilets Jaunes – protests that started in 2018, leading to regular rioting in cities such as Paris.

French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin told radio station RTL on Friday that 310 people were arrested overnight, most of them in Paris, after protests on Thursday.

Rioters clashed with police during demonstrations on Thursday night, with officers deploying a water cannon as thousands gathered at the Place de Concorde.

Thousands again rallied in the public square on Friday to vent their frustration at the government imposing the reform, despite two months of strikes and demonstrations against the change.

Groups of people threw bottles and fireworks at the security forces, who responded by firing tear gas to try to clear the square. Police said they made 61 arrests.

A protester holds a cut-out depicting French President Emmanuel Macron near a fire during a demonstration on Place de la Concorde on March 17, 2023 

A poster depicting French President Macron burns as protesters set fire to construction equipment at Concorde square on March 17, 2023

Police officers stand guard during a demonstration on Place de la Concorde on March 17, 2023

Water is sprayed at a wooden cable reel drum during a demonstration on Place de la Concorde in Paris on March 17

Pictures emerged of a crowd huddled around a fire in the square with a cardboard effigy of the French President raised precariously above the flames to chants of ‘Macron, Resign!’ The cutout was later shown after it had been ignited. A water cannon vehicle was also pictured.

An AFP image showed water being sprayed onto a large wooden cable reel that had been torched in the public square. Construction equipment had been burned there for the second day in a row, according to reports.

Lines of riot police could also be seen blocking the path leading from the Place de la Concorde to the National Assembly, home to the lower house of the bicameral French Parliament.

Police said the ban on crowds at the Place de la Concorde, implemented on Saturday, was ‘due to serious risks of disturbances to public order’. 

Protesters set fire to construction equipment at Concorde square as people gather near the National Assembly on March 17, 2023

Protesters gathered at the Place de la Concorde this evening. They were seen huddled around a fire 

A riot policeman removes barricades built by protesters during the demonstration against the French Government’s pension reform in Paris on March 17, 2023

Riot police intervene with tear gas to protesters during the demonstration against the French Government’s pension reform in Paris on March 17, 2023

Riot police arrest a protester during clashes in a demonstration against the French Government’s pension reform in Paris, France on March 17, 2023

Riot police drag a protester away during clashes in a demonstration against the French Government’s pension reform in Paris, France on March 17, 2023

A protester fires a firework towards French Riot Police amidst clouds of tear gas during clashes at Place de la Concorde as protests continue for a second straight night against the French Government’s pension reform on March 17

Gendarmerie members stand guard during a demonstration on Place de la Concorde to protest the use by French government of the article 49.3 on March 17, 2023

French opposition lawmakers have filed a no confidence motion against Macron’s government after the controversial bill to raise the retirement age was forced through parliament without a vote.

‘The motion will allow us to get out on top of a deep political crisis’, said Bertrand Pancher, the head of a left-wing independent parliamentary group that co-signed the motion.

Fury has quickly spread across the streets of Paris as angry protesters disrupted traffic and set cars and barricades ablaze following the bill being forced through parliament.

Demonstrators have also disrupted rubbish collection and university campuses as opponents of the change maintain their resolve to get the government to back down.

Several cars were torched in Paris and other French cities during demonstrations involving several thousand people. Trade unions mobilised workers to briefly block a Paris ring road on Friday morning.

The capital’s municipal rubbish collectors have kept up a rolling strike, leaving an estimated 10,000 tonnes of trash festering in the streets by Friday.

A union representative on Saturday said that strikers at three incinerators outside Paris would let some garbage trucks through ‘to limit the risk of an epidemic’.

Police said trucks from five depots had resumed work.

In the energy sector, the CGT union has said strikers would halt production at two refineries by this weekend or Monday at the latest.

Unions from national train operator SNCF on Friday urged workers to continue another continuous strike that has caused major disruption on the network.

The capital is being shaken by a second night of violent protests as tensions over the pension reforms reach melting point

Demonstrator ran through the tear gas during a protest in Paris on March 17, 2023

Gendarmerie members stand guard during a demonstration on Place de la Concorde to protest the use by French government of the article 49.3, a special clause in the French Constitution, to push the pensions reform bill through the National Assembly without a vote by lawmakers, in Paris on March 17, 2023

CGT unionists march with flares and banners on the ring road in Paris on March 17, 2023

A police water cannon vehicle is stationed alongside police vehicles as people begin to gather for a demonstration on Place de la Concorde in Paris on March 17, 2023

Riot police block the Pont de la Concorde leading from the Place de la Concorde to National Assembly, home to the lower house of the bicameral French Parliament, in Paris on March 17, 2023

Riot police vehicles at the Pont de la Concorde on the evening of March 17, 2023

A pedestrian walks past full waste bins in Paris’ 2nd district as rubbish collectors strike against pension reforms, leaving many streets in the capital piled with stinking waste on March 17, 2023

Macron ordered Borne on Thursday to wield a special constitutional power to push the highly unpopular pension bill through without a vote in the National Assembly, France’s lower house of parliament.

His calculated risk infuriated opposition lawmakers, many citizens and unions.

The French are deeply attached to keeping the official retirement age at 62, which is among the lowest in European countries.

More than eight out of 10 people are unhappy with the government’s decision to skip a vote in parliament, and 65 per cent want strikes and protests to continue, a Toluna Harris Interactive poll for RTL radio showed. 

On Thursday, thousands gathered in protest at the Place de la Concorde.

As night fell, police officers charged the demonstrators in waves to clear the Place.

Small groups then moved through nearby streets in the chic Champs-Elysees neighborhood, setting off street fires along the way.

Similar scenes repeated themselves in numerous other cities, from Rennes and Nantes in eastern France to Lyon and the southern port city of Marseille, where shop windows and bank fronts were smashed, local French media reported.

Fury has spread across the streets of Paris as police clash with protesters after a controversial bill to raise the retirement age was forced through parliament without a vote

Fights have broken out between protesters in the capital city 

A barricade burns as protesters block the traffic on Paris’ peripheral boulevard in the morning hours to distribute flyers against the French government’s pension reform

Rubbish has piled up on the street in Paris’ 5th district, as rubbish collectors strike against pension reforms,  leaving many streets in the capital piled with waste

People wave General Confederation of Labour unions (CGT) flags as they block the traffic on Paris’ peripheral boulevard

Firefighters intervene to stop the fire to start in full waste bins as rubbish collectors strike against pension reforms 

A cyclist drives past full waste bins in Paris’ 2nd district as rubbish collectors strike against pension reforms leaving many streets in the capital piled with stinking waste

The Eiffel Tower is seen while protesters set fire as clashes take place with riot police during a demonstration against French government’s plan to raise the legal retirement age

Protesters set fire as clashes take place with riot police during a demonstration against plans to raise the retirement age

The trade unions that had organized strikes and marches against a higher retirement age said more rallies and protest marches would take place in the days ahead.

‘This retirement reform is brutal, unjust, unjustified for the world of workers,’ they declared.

Macron has made the proposed pension changes the key priority of his second term, arguing that reform is needed to make the French economy more competitive and to keep the pension system from diving into deficit. France, like many richer nations, faces lower birth rates and longer life expectancy.

Macron decided to invoke the special power during a Cabinet meeting a few minutes before a scheduled vote in the National Assembly, where the legislation had no guarantee of securing majority support. The Senate adopted the bill earlier Thursday.

Demonstration in Paris take place at Place de la Concorde, following the use of Article 49.3 to validate the government’s pension reform

Protestors chant against the French Government during demonstrations at Place de la Concorde

Clashes take place during a demonstration against French government’s plan to raise the legal retirement age in Paris

Protesters participate in a demonstration against French government’s plan to raise the legal retirement age

Protesters set fire to items as clashes take place with riot police during a demonstration

Riot police advance as clashes take place during a demonstration in Paris last night

CGT unionists light flares on the ring road as they block the traffic to protest

Opposition lawmakers demanded the government to step down. If the expected no confidence motion passes, which requires approval from more than half of the Assembly, it would be a first since 1962 and would force the government to resign. It would also spell the end Macron’s retirement reform plan.

Macron could reappoint Borne if he chooses, and a new Cabinet would be named. If the motion does not succeed, the pension bill would be considered adopted.

Addressing the protests, hard-left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon said: ‘Something fundamental happened, and that is that, immediately, spontaneous mobilisations took place throughout the country.

‘It goes without saying that I encourage them, I think that’s where it’s happening.’

Q&A: Protests over France’s pension reforms

What are France’s pension reforms?

The new retirement age will be 64, rising by two years from the current age of 62. But the change will be gradual at first. From September, the retirement age will increase by three months each year until 2030.

What about current pensioners?

Just 33 per cent of 60 to 64-year-olds are employed in France. This is significantly lower than in Germany at 61 per cent and Sweden at 69 per cent.

Through the new law, an additional €17.7 billion will be made in pension contributions (£15.5 billion) each year. The government says this will allow pensions for the poorest 30 per cent of the country to increase from 2.5 to five per cent.

What do critics of the new pension age say?

A number of France’s trade unions say only a small increase in contributions would be enough. They have called the new retirement age unfair – particularly to low-skilled workers in manual jobs who start their work earlier than someone with a degree would.

What do people think about the reforms?

Protests and demonstrations have been ongoing for months. On January 31, the biggest day of national protests, 1.27 million people are estimated to have taken to the street.

Unions have also warned of more strikes to come. 

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