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French President Macron’s Retirement System Reform Sparks More Clashes

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More clashes erupted between protesters and French police as thousands of people took to the streets to voice their opposition to President Emmanuel Macron’s pension reform.

The day of nationwide protests and strikes called by unions is the tenth since mid-January against the law, which includes raising the retirement age from 62 to 64.

The movement has turned out to be a major challenge to Macron, who won a second term in elections last year, and represents the biggest crisis of his second term.

About 13,000 police were deployed across the country on Tuesday, after last Thursday witnessed the fiercest clashes so far between protesters and security forces.

French police have been accused of using excessive force – whether by demonstrators or rights bodies – which further fueled anger among demonstrators.

In eastern Paris, police fired tear gas and launched an assault after some masked protesters, dressed in black, raided a grocery store and set fires as the march approached the Place de la Nation.

Police said at least 27 people were arrested in the capital in the afternoon.

He threw projectiles

Demonstrators delayed trains at Gare de Lyon, one of the busiest stations in Paris, as they walked down the tracks and lit flares, in what they described as a show of solidarity with a railway worker who lost an eye during an earlier protest.

And in the western city of Nantes, demonstrators threw projectiles at security forces, who responded by firing tear gas, according to an AFP correspondent. A bank was set on fire as well as rubbish bins around the city.

Police deployed water cannons in the southeastern city of Lyon and used tear gas in the northern city of Lille, after protesters caused damage, including vandalizing a bus stop.

Paris rubbish collectors have halted a three-week strike from Wednesday that has seen thousands of tons of rubbish accumulate in the capital, the CGT union said.

But she said the move was to allow labor coordination to “strike again more forcefully” as fewer workers were now striking.

Almost two weeks after Macron forced the new pension law through parliament using a special article, unions vowed not to back down in mass protests to get the government to back down.

A state visit to France by Britain’s King Charles III, which was due to start on Sunday, has been postponed because of the unrest.

political talks

On Monday, Macron held crisis talks with Prime Minister Elisabeth Born and other ministers and senior lawmakers at the Elysee Palace.

“We need to continue to extend a helping hand to the unions,” one of the participants in the meeting quoted Macron as saying, even though the president rejected any revision of the pension law.

Bourne has scheduled talks over three weeks with members of parliament, political parties and local authorities, while still hoping to meet union leaders.

Laurent Berger, president of the moderate CFDT union, called for the appointment of a mediator between the unions and the government “as a gesture to calm down and find a way out”.

“The aim is to withdraw” the pension law, said Felipe Martinez, leader of the far-left CGT union.

But government spokesman Olivier Ferrand said the law was no longer under discussion. He said, “It’s in the past now.”

Nothing changes

The French Interior Ministry estimated the turnout on Tuesday at about 740,000 protesters nationwide, down somewhat from the 1.09 million protesters who took to the streets last Thursday.

More than 2 million people protested, the CGT union said, also down from its estimate of 3.5 million on March 23.

Young people were prominent in Tuesday’s protests, blockading many universities and high schools.

“Nothing changes. Macron doesn’t seem to be listening to us,” said Jo Zigwilly, 19, a student at the Sorbonne in Paris.

In Toulouse, Paul Castagne, 26, a doctoral student in ecology, said he feared “what the government is trying to do is let the situation deteriorate and manipulate people’s boredom.”

Mass transit in Paris was severely affected, with traffic disrupted on both metro and suburban trains.

On Monday, workers blocked entry to the Louvre in Paris, the most visited museum in the world, forcing it to close.

As in previous strike days, the Eiffel Tower in Paris and the Palace of Versailles outside the capital were closed on Tuesday.

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