Bordeaux town hall set on fire as pension reform protests continue in France
Police fired tear gas and fought with violent black-clad anarchists in France on Thursday as more than a million mainly peaceful protesters marched against President Emmanuel Macron’s plan to raise the pension age.
In a ninth day of nationwide protests, train and air travel was disrupted while teachers were among many professions to walk off the job, just days after the government pushed through legislation to raise the retirement age by two years to 64.
Police fired tear gas at some protesters in cities, including Nantes and Bordeaux in the west, and used water cannon against others in Rennes in the northwest.
In Bordeaux, photos showed the city’s town hall alight on Thursday evening. It was not immediately clear who was responsible for the fire, which was promptly brought under control.
In the western town of Lorient, Ouest-France newspaper said projectiles caused a brief fire in the yard of a police station.
Demonstrations in central Paris attended by 119,000 were generally peaceful, but smaller groups of “Black Bloc” anarchists smashed shop windows, demolished street furniture and ransacked a McDonalds restaurant. Clashes ensued as riot police moved in and drove back the anarchists with tear gas and stun grenades.
Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said 123 police officers had been injured and 80 people arrested across the country.
Small groups continued to clash with police in Paris into the evening, setting bins ablaze and playing cat-and-mouse with security forces.
Labour unions fear that protests could turn more violent if the government does not heed the growing popular anger over pension curbs.
France: Anti-Government Protests
Unions called for regional action over the weekend and new nationwide strikes and protests on March 28, the day King Charles III is due to travel to Bordeaux from Paris by train.
“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 leader of the hardline CGT union, Philippe Martinez, said at the start of a rally in Paris: “There is a lot of anger, an explosive situation.”
Union leaders called for calm but were angry with what they called Macron’s “provocative” comments.
On Wednesday, Macron broke weeks of silence on the new policy, saying he would stand firm and the law would come into force by year end. He compared protests to the January 6, 2021, storming of the US Capitol.
Opinion polls have long shown that a majority of voters oppose the legislation. Opponents were further angered last week when the government rammed the pension changes through parliament without a vote.
Many slogans and banners took aim at the president, who avoided reporters as he arrived in Brussels for a European Union leaders summit.
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.”