Macron’s reconciliation tour gets off to rocky start in eastern France

Paris, Apr 19 (EFE).- French President Emmanuel Macron was greeted with boos and calls to resign Wednesday in the eastern region of Alsace on the first of a series of planned visits to the interior aimed at rebuilding his connection to citizens angry over the enactment of an unpopular increase in the retirement age.

At his first stop, the Mathis construction firm in Muttersholtz, 39 km (24 mi) from Strasbourg, police resorted to threats of force to persuade a crowd of protesters to leave the premises.

The demonstrators moved some 200 m (656 ft) away, but the sound of the boos, whistles, and banging on pots could be heard as the president spoke.

“We wanted to see him, but as he didn’t want to listen to us, we made noise,” one protester told French television.

The hostility was even greater in Selestat, a town of around 19,000 people near the German border, where scores of people gathered in the main square to chant “Macron resignation” and boo the head of state.

“I have had worse receptions,” he said as he tried to engage residents in conversation about his policies.

In a speech to the nation Monday night, Macron tried to turn the page on the pensions controversy by announcing a “social pact” comprising initiatives in the areas of reindustrialization, education, and health.

“You are in the center of one of the great ambitions of the country … green reindustrialization,” the president told employees at Mathis, which has several contracts to build fixtures for the 2024 Olympics in Paris.

Responding to questions from journalists, Macron insisted that the passage of the pension overhaul – via a constitutional provision allowing the government to impose legislation in the absence of a vote of no-confidence – was “legitimate.”

He also dismissed as futile the 12 rounds of protests that brought millions onto the streets of France’s major cities in opposition to raising the retirement age from 62 to 64.

“It will not be pot-banging that makes us advance,” Macron said.

He is due to travel Thursday to the southeastern department of Herault, on the Mediterranean coast.

Polls show that up to 70 percent of the French population opposes the higher retirement age and though the measure is now law, organized labor is calling for a “grand popular mobilization” against the pension overhaul on May 1.

EFE rcf/dr

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