France’s pension reform riots increase pressure on Macron

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French President Emmanuel Macron faced the biggest challenge to his authority since the so-called “yellow vest” protests on Friday after his government’s decision to push by decree for a questionable pension overhaul without a parliamentary vote sparked violent riots overnight.

Cars were set on fire in Paris and other French cities during spontaneous demonstrations involving several thousand people. Unions urged workers to intensify strikes on Friday and briefly blocked the Paris ring road.

French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin said police had arrested 310 people and vowed to crack down on rioters.

“The opposition is legitimate, the protests are legitimate, but rioting is not,” Darmanin told RTL radio.RRTL).

The riots were reminiscent of protests by the so-called “yellow vests,” which erupted in late 2018 over high fuel prices and forced Macron to partially backtrack on a tax on carbon emissions.

The pension review raises France’s retirement age by two years to 64, which the government says is essential to ensure the system does not go bankrupt.

In parliament, opposition MPs promised to table motions of no confidence and called for the resignation of Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne.

However, there is little chance that the fragmented opposition will unite to topple the government. Conservative Republicans lawmakers have ruled out joining the no-confidence motions.

Votes in Parliament are likely to take place over the weekend or Monday.

Labour Minister Olivier Dussopt told BFM TV that if the no-confidence motions are rejected, the pension reform bill “will be enacted,” downplaying the risk that this will further fuel anger.

“I don’t deny the difficulties we face, but at a time when things are moving, we must stay the course,” he added.

The unions have called for a new national day of strikes and demonstrations for Thursday 23 March.

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