Friday, March 17, 2023

France is roiled by protests over raising the retirement age

Protests rock France over raising of retirement age


PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron's administration on Thursday slammed a disputable benefits change through parliament without a vote, starting irate fights in Paris and different urban communities as well as tumult in the lawmaking body.

It was an admission that the government lacked a majority to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64 by using a special constitutional power that allowed the government to pass legislation without a vote.

The bill had been approved by the Senate earlier on Thursday, but the government was doomed to fail in the lower house because right-wing opposition MPs in the National Assembly refused to support Macron.

As she made the announcement, Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne told MPs, "We can't take the risk of seeing 175 hours of parliamentary debate come to nothing," to jeers and boos from opposition MPs who also sang the national anthem.

In the historic Place de la Concorde in the heart of Paris, riot police kept an eye on the thousands of people gathering in front of the parliament.

I'm appalled by what's taking place. Laure Cartelier, a 55-year-old schoolteacher who had come to express her outrage, stated, "I feel like I'm being cheated as a citizen." It ought to have taken place through a vote in a democracy."

After a fire was started in the middle of the square, close to an Egyptian obelisk that has stood there for close to 200 years, police used tear gas and water cannon to drive the protesters away around 8:00 p.m. (1900 GMT).

According to Paris police, 120 individuals were arrested on suspicion of attempting to cause harm.

According to AFP reporters, some protesters started fires and damaged shopfronts in side streets even after the rally was over.

According to AFP correspondents, protests in the southern city of Marseille resulted in the looting of several stores, and clashes between protesters and security forces also broke out in the western cities of Nantes and Rennes, as well as Lyon in the southeast.

By invoking article 49.3 of the constitution, political analysts and trade unions had warned that adopting the legislation without a vote would undermine the law's democratic legitimacy and put opponents at risk of radicalization.

Marine Le Pen, the leader of the far-right, told reporters, "It's a total failure for the government." The government fooled itself into thinking it had a majority from the beginning.

Two-thirds of French people, according to polls, oppose the pension reform.

Olivier Faure, the leader of the Socialist Party, added, "A president must withdraw his bill when he has no majority in the country and no majority in the National Assembly."

A no-confidence vote against the centrist government is expected to be held on Friday by some opposition parties, including Le Pen's, but Borne's cabinet is expected to survive due to support from the right-wing Republicans.

The government's action was described as "a complete denial of democracy" by unions, who immediately demanded a second day of mass strikes and protests for Thursday.

According to Antoine Bristielle, a public opinion specialist at the think tank Fondation Jean-Jaures, enacting such a significant law without a vote in the parliament ran the risk of further alienating the nation and intensifying anti-Macron sentiment.

He stated that a growing number of people were losing faith in French democracy and that opinion polls demonstrated that approximately eight out of ten people were opposed to enacting legislation in this manner.

During his first term, Macron attempted to pass a pension reform but was unsuccessful. In April of last year, he returned to the topic while running for re-election.

However, following National Assembly elections in June, he lost his parliamentary majority.

On Thursday, despite the day's high drama, Macron did not make any public remarks regarding the matter.

A participant said that he justified the move by saying, "You cannot play with the future of the country," at a cabinet meeting held behind closed doors on Thursday morning.

Since January, in the midst of some of the largest protests in decades, there have been strikes that have affected trains, schools, public services, and ports.

Additionally, approximately 7,000 tons of uncollected trash have accumulated on the streets of Paris as a result of a rolling strike by municipal garbage collectors, attracting rats and astonishing tourists.

Images showed that protesters in Paris and other cities used the situation to set fire to the trash that hadn't been picked up.

Uncertain are the political repercussions of enforcing a reform that the majority of people oppose.

This week, Philippe Martinez, the head of the CGT union, issued a warning that Macron ran the risk of "giving the keys" to Le Pen at the next election in 2027, when the French constitution prohibits Macron from running for a third term.

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