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The Guardian: Pension reform passed in France, but protests continue

17-3-2023 |

The president, Emmanuel Macron, took a last-minute decision to avoid a parliamentary vote and instead push through his unpopular plan to raise the pension age from 62 to 64 with help of special constitutional powers.

Minutes before MPs in the lower house were to vote, Macron was still holding a series of frantic meetings with senior political figures, and suddenly chose to use special powers instead of risking a vote, which he appeared poised to lose.

He opted to invoke article 49.3 of the constitution, which gives the government power to bypass parliament.

MPs on the left shouted “Resign! Resign!” at Borne, and members of the radical left party France Unbowed sang the national anthem so loudly that Borne could at first not speak and the session had to be suspended before she tried again to be heard.

Borne told parliament the bill would be pushed through because the government could not “gamble the future of our pensions”.

Macron had told cabinet ministers that “the financial risks were too great” if the law had been rejected by MPs, according to reports from inside talks at the Élysée.

Shortly afterwards, thousands of people gathered in a spontaneous protest at Place de la Concorde in the centre of the city, as trade unions promised to intensify the strikes and street demonstrations that have taken place since January. The head of the hardline CGT union, Philippe Martinez, said forcing through the law “shows contempt towards the people”.

Police fired teargas and water cannon and charged in an effort to disperse the crowd on Thursday night, as some protesters threw cobblestones. In several other French cities including Marseille there were also spontaneous protests against the reform.

Police have arrested 120 people in Paris, according to Le Figaro. A police officer was reportedly injured in one standoff with protestors and rioters.

After the rally was dispersed, some protesters created fires and caused damage to shop fronts in side streets, Agence France-Presse reporters said. Several stores were looted during protests in Marseille, in the country’s south, while clashes between protesters and security forces also erupted in the western cities of Nantes and Rennes as well as Lyon in the south-east, they said.

French unions called for another day of strikes and action against the reform on Thursday 23 March.

Politicians on the left called the government’s move a major defeat and a sign of weakness. The government was accused of being brutal and undemocratic.

Source: The Guardian