PARIS (AP) — Protesters opposing President Emmanuel Macron’s unpopular plan to raise the retirement age to 64 marched again Thursday in cities and towns across France, in a final show of anger before a key decision on whether the measure meets constitutional standards.
Demonstrators targeted the offices of the Central Bank in Paris and briefly stormed the headquarters of luxury conglomerate LVMH – but their attention was increasingly focused on the Constitutional Council, which is due to decide on Friday whether to overturn any or all parts of the law.
Activists threw garbage bags in front of the pillared facade in the morning. Later, another torch-wielding crowd confronted a large contingent of riot police who rushed to protect the building.
Paris police banned all gatherings outside the council from Thursday night until Saturday morning, in an attempt to ease pressure on council members as they make their decision.
Police said around 380,000 people took part in protests across France on Thursday. The numbers were down from previous weeks, but the unions still managed to mobilize large crowds. The demonstrations were largely peaceful, although dozens of injuries were reported among police and protesters.
The unions were hoping for a strong response on Thursday to put pressure on both the government and the members of the Constitutional Council tasked with studying the text of the pension reform plan. Critics contested the government’s choice to include the pension plan in the draft budget law, which significantly accelerated the legislative process. The government’s decision to bypass parliamentary elections by using special constitutional powers has turned opponents’ anger into fury.
The piles of garbage signaled the start of a new strike by garbage collectors, which is scheduled to begin protest marches across the country. A previous strike last month left the streets of the French capital filled with piles of smelly waste for days.
Polls consistently show most French people oppose pension reform, which Macron says is needed to keep the pension system afloat as the population ages. Demonstrators are also angry at Macron himself and the presidency, which they believe threatens the protection of workers in France and favors big business.
Fabien Villedieu of the Sud-Rail Union said LVMH “could close all the loopholes” in the French social security system. “So, one of the solutions to fund the pension system is a better redistribution of wealth, and the best way to do that is to tax billionaires.
Bernard Arnault, head of LVMH, “is the richest man in the world so he could contribute,” Villedieu said.
Security forces intervened to stop vandals along the march route in Paris, and 36 people were detained, police said. As in past protests, several hundred “radical elements” mingled within the march, police said.
Thousands also marched in Toulouse, Marseille and elsewhere. Tensions rose at protests in Brittany, particularly in Nantes and Rennes, where a car was set on fire.
“The mobilization is far from over,” said leftist CGT union leader Sophie Binet at a garbage incinerator south of Paris where several hundred protesters blocked garbage trucks. “Until this reform is withdrawn, the mobilization will continue in one form or another.”
The CGT has been the backbone of the protest and strike movement challenging Macron’s plan to raise France’s retirement age from 62 to 64. Eight unions have staged protests since January in a rare voice of unity. Student unions joined.
Macron initially rejected a request to meet with the unions, but during a state visit to the Netherlands on Wednesday he proposed an “exchange” to discuss the follow-up to the Constitutional Council’s decision. There was no formal response to his offer.
“The dispute is strong, rooted in the people,” said Laurent Berger, head of the moderate CFDT union. If the measure is announced, “there will be consequences,” he warned, noting “quiet anger” among union ranks.
Protests and labor strikes often hamper public transport in Paris, but metro trains were mostly running without a hitch on Thursday. The civil aviation authority asked the airports of Toulouse, Bordeaux and Nantes to reduce air traffic by 20%.
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