Scores arrested in France during protests over pension overhaul

Paris, Apr 14 (EFE).- Police arrested 112 people here Friday night during protests following a ruling by France’s Constitutional Council that President Emmanuel Macron’s unpopular plan to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64 can go forward.

Demonstrators in Paris set more than two-dozen dumpsters ablaze and battled riot police, while in the northeastern city of Rennes, hundreds of youths set fire to the gate of a police station.

Besides upholding the main elements of Macron’s bill, the Constitutional Council rejected a bid for a referendum on the pension, which polls show is opposed by up to 70 percent of the population.

But the nine-member body is set to rule early next month on a separate request to give the people an opportunity to vote on resolving the pension issue by increasing revenue rather than raising the retirement age.

The decision clears the way for Macron to enact the law as soon as Sunday after more than three months of the largest protests France has seen in 50 years.

The nine-member body did strike down several elements of the legislation that pertain to encouraging companies to hire older workers, but only because it deemed the inclusion of those provisions to be incompatible with the mechanism Macron’s government used to ram the bill through parliament without debate.

Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne invoked Article 49.3 of the French Constitution, which allows the government to impose legislation unless parliament passes a no-confidence motion.

While the procedure can be utilized only once during a legislative session for a regular bill, there is no limit to how many times the government can resort to 49.3 to advance a budget bill – the vehicle Borne chose for the pension overhaul.

Mathilde Panot, the parliamentary chief of the leftist La France Insoumise (France Unbowed) party, said that the council’s decision is a “dangerous precedent,” as it will permit the government to continue to impose “major reforms” via budget legislation.

During a press conference with other lawmakers from the NUPES alliance, comprising her party, the Greens, the Socialists, and the Communists, she said that protests and strikes will continue.

“The decision of the Constitutional Council shows that it is more attentive to the needs of the presidential monarchy than to those of the sovereign people,” La France Insoumise leader Jean-Luc Melenchon said in a statement.

Marine Le Pen, standard-bearer of the far-right National Rally, said that the enactment of “this brutal and unjust reform” will mark “the definitive rupture between the French people and Emmanuel Macron.”

Members of France’s two main labor federations, the CFDT and the CGT, began gathering outside the Paris city hall hours before the Constitutional Council announced its decision at 5:30 pm and unions organized more than 200 demonstrations nationwide in anticipation of the ruling.

Organized labor called for a “grand popular mobilization” on May 1 and canceled a meeting planned for next week between union executives and Macron.

Sophie Binet, general secretary of the CGT, said that if the government promulgates the pension law, “no labor organization will meet with the president to discuss any other issue.”

“One does not govern a country against its people,” she told a BFMTV journalist during a protest in Paris, appealing to Macron to abandon “obstinacy” and “return to wisdom.”

Less than a year after winning re-election, polls show that if the vote were held today, the former investment banker would lose by a wide margin to Le Pen.

A survey published last week by Les Echos newspaper indicated that only 25 percent of the France have confidence in their president.

EFE rcf-atc/dr

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