French police fire tear gas at protesters amid new strikes over pension reforms

Macron’s reforms have ignited a months-long firestorm of public anger

Protesters have disrupted traffic around Paris’s main airport and police fired clouds of tear gas in other French cities amid the latest round of strikes and demonstrations against Emmanuel Macron’s pension reforms.

President Macron’s drive to raise the national retirement age from 62 to 64 has led to a series of walkouts in recent months.

Talks between trade union leaders and France’s prime minister Elisabeth Borne broke up on Wednesday without a breakthrough, setting the stage for protesters’ return to the streets.

However, the number of strikers has fallen, particularly in the transport sector, since protests began in January. About 400,000 people joined the protest in Paris on Thursday, down from 450,000 the week before, the CGT union said.


Crowds marched behind union flags and banners in Marseille on the Mediterranean coast, Bordeaux in the south west, Lyon in the south east and other cities.

In the western city of Nantes, rumbling tractors joined the parade of marchers and thick clouds of police tear gas were deployed against demonstrators.

In Lyon, police fired tear gas — for many a new normal in France — to disperse a crowd outside a Nespresso coffee store that was being looted.

Public radio France Bleu reported that tear gas was fired to disperse demonstrators in the city of Rennes.

In Paris, strikers again closed the Eiffel Tower. At Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport, about 100 demonstrators blocked a road leading to terminal one on Thursday and entered the terminal building, the airport operator said.

It said flights were unaffected, but travellers with their luggage had to weave their way past flag-waving protesters.

The Paris Metro ran almost normally, in stark contrast to previous days of action. Less than 8 per cent of teachers were on strike, according to the Education Ministry, but the sizeable TotalEnergies oil refinery in Gonfreville-l’Orcher remained closed.

In Paris, police were pelted with projectiles when the protest reached La Rotonde, a restaurant patronised by Mr Macron during the 2017 presidential election that he went on to win. Parts of the façade of the chic venue were vandalised.

Officers dispersed violent protesters, who were in the minority, with tear gas after they smashed up a branch of Credit Agricole bank.

Experts say violence seen in the nationwide protests, with dozens of demonstrators and police hurt, has angered less militant parts of the population.

“The demonstrations have become more violent as they’ve gone on. That means many in France are now staying away,” said Luc Rouban, research director of a centre at Sciences Po, the prestigious Parisian university.

Paris marcher Khadija Philip disagreed there was a drop in will, vowing “we won’t give up as long as they haven’t taken the time to hear us and reconsider their decision”.

Union representative Sylvain Challan Belval said Mr Macron’s government was simply playing for time and hoping that the protest movement “will blow itself out”.

The Interior Ministry deployed some 11,500 police officers nationwide, including 4,200 in Paris, to try to avert more of the clashes and moments of vandalism that have marred previous protests.

In Paris, rat catchers hurled dead rodents at City Hall on Wednesday in one of the more memorable illustrations of how Mr Macron’s plans to raise the national retirement age have stoked workers’ fury. Broadcaster BFMTV showed rodent bodies being tossed by workers in white protective suits. - AP