Violent clashes in Paris during protest against Macron’s pension reforms

(Update: adds info on violent clashes)

Paris, Mar 23 (EFE).- Demonstrations in Paris against the French government’s pension reforms were marred by violent clashes between protesters and police on Thursday.

Police fired tear gas after a group of protesters broke off from the main march in central Paris and threw projectiles at officers.

Some of the protesters set alight piles of rubbish that has accumulated in the streets due to the garbage collectors’ strike that has been going on for more than two weeks, forcing the fire department to intervene.

Fourteen arrests had been made by mid-afternoon, police said.

Authorities expect 800,000 people to take part in the nationwide demonstrations, and police have deployed 12,000 officers across the country.

Clashes were also reported at rallies in Rennes, Nantes, Bordeaux and Lorient.

Union leaders have condemned the violence, accusing president Emmanuel Macron of using it as a pretext to discredit the strikes.

The reforms, which were pushed through last week without a vote in parliament after the government used special constitutional powers, will raise the minimum retirement age by two years to 64.

French labor unions have now held nine rounds of strikes and protests since the reforms were announced in late January.

On Thursday, rail service and flights were severely affected by the strikes, which also saw staff in public transport, oil refineries, the energy industry, garbage collection and schools walk out.

Only half of France’s high-speed trains were running, while two-thirds of regional trains were canceled. Commuter services in the Paris region were also severely disrupted, with up to 80% cancellations on some lines.

On Wednesday, Macron defiantly defended the reforms in a televised interview.

The president, who has been heavily criticized by union leaders and opposition parties for failing to listen to public sentiment, said his only mistake throughout the process had been “not managing to convince” the country of the need for pension reform.

The government says it is necessary to tackle France’s growing budget deficit, which is expected to reach 12.5 billion euros by 2030.

“Do they think I want this reform? No,” he said, insisting that options such as lowering pensions or raising taxes had been discarded.

He pointed out that the French government has faced union opposition every time that it has tried to introduce pension reforms, and insisted his cabinet would “assume” the consequences of the unpopular changes.

“Between the long-term polls and the general interest of the country, I choose the general interest of the country. And if that has consequences, I accept them,” Macron said. EFE


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