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Nearly one million protesters in France to protest government pension reform plans

origin 1Protesters stand atop a statue in Place de la Nation after a demonstration against plans to push back France’s retirement age, in Paris, Saturday February 11, 2023. ©Michel Euler/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved

Police were out in force across France on Saturday as protesters held a sometimes restless fourth round of protests against government pension reforms.

More than 960,000 people marched in Paris, Nice, Marseille, Toulouse, Nantes and other cities, according to the interior ministry. Protesters hoped to keep up the pressure on the government to back down and further action is scheduled for February 16.

In the French capital, authorities counted some 93,000 participants, the highest number of demonstrators in Paris against pension changes since the protests began last month.

93,000 marched in Paris

The weekend demonstrations attracted young people and others opposed to pension proposals who were unable to attend the previous three days of action, all held on weekdays.

This time, however, strikes by railway workers did not accompany the demonstrations, allowing trains and the Paris metro to run on Saturday. However, an unexpected strike by air traffic controllers meant that up to half of flights to and from Paris’ second largest airport, Orly, were canceled on Saturday afternoon.

In Paris, some workers and students who wanted to voice the opposition joined the protests for the first time, due to heavy workloads on weekdays.

“We often hear that we should be too young to care, but as inflation rises and electricity prices rise, this reform will impact our families,” said Elisa Haddad, 18. “It’s my first demonstration because I couldn’t participate with the university. It is important that the voice of parents and (French) students is heard.”

French lawmakers began a turbulent debate earlier this week over the pensions bill to raise the retirement age.

Saturday’s protests were marked by flashes of unrest. A car and several rubbish bins were set on fire in a central Paris avenue as police charged into the crowd and dispersed protesters with tear gas. Paris police said officers arrested eight people for offenses ranging from possession of a firearm to vandalism.

Test for Macron

Some protesters walked as families across the French capital’s Place de la Republique and carried emotional banners. “I don’t want my parents to die on the job,” reads one, given by a teenager.

The protests are a crucial test for both Macron and his opponents. The government has insisted on his determination to push through Macron’s electoral pledge to reform France’s generous pension system. Of the 38 member countries of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, France is among the countries that spend the most years in retirement.