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Protests Erupt Across France as Macron Pushes Ahead With Pension Bill

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France was rocked by protests across the country on Thursday as President Emmanuel Macron doubled down on a controversial pension reform bill.

Workers angry about the rising retirement age have blocked access to a terminal at Paris’s Roissy-Charles de Gaulle airport as part of a day of nationwide protests, forcing some travelers to reach it on foot.

Train services were disrupted, some schools closed, rubbish piled up in the streets and electricity was cut as unions increased pressure on the government to withdraw the law that delays retirement by two years to 64.

Plumes of smoke were seen rising from piles of burning debris blocking traffic on a motorway near Toulouse, in southwestern France, and brutal strikes also briefly closed roads in other cities.

An Aeroports de Paris spokesperson said that the spontaneous protest near Terminal 1 in Roissy would not affect flights.

Protest rallies were scheduled across the country later in the day, while protests also targeted oil depots and shut down an LNG terminal in the northern city of Dunkirk.

President Emmanuel Macron said on Wednesday that the legislation – which his government passed through parliament without a vote last week – will enter into force by the end of the year despite mounting anger across the country.

“The best response we can give to the president is that there are millions of people on strike and on the streets,” said Felipe Martinez, who leads the militant CGT union.

The protests against the policy changes, which are also accelerating a planned increase in the number of years one must work to get a full pension, have drawn huge crowds at union-organised rallies since January.

anger

Most of the protests have been peaceful, but anger has escalated since the government pushed the bill through parliament without a vote last week.

The past seven nights have seen spontaneous demonstrations in Paris and other cities, with rubbish bins on fire and clashes with police.

Laurent Berger, president of France’s largest union, the moderate CFDT, told BFM TV that the government should withdraw the pension law. He said Macron’s comments “intensified the anger”.

The latest wave of protests represents the most serious challenge to the president’s authority since the “yellow vest” protests four years ago. Opinion polls show that a wide majority of French people oppose the retirement law, as well as the government’s decision to pass it through Parliament without a vote.

“It’s good that people are still mobilizing, that people are standing up for their beliefs,” said engineer Jean Walter, 26, at the Paris-Saint-Lazare train station, where many trains have been cancelled.

“I support the strike, even if it takes more time to go to work today.”

Labor Minister Olivier Dussopp said the government did not deny the tensions but wanted to move forward.

“There is a dispute that will continue over the retirement age. On the other hand, there are many topics that make it possible to renew the dialogue,” he said, including how companies share their profits with workers.

“Things will happen gradually,” he said.

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