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New pension protests in France ahead of crucial votes

PARIS–France faced another day of protests on Sunday over a bitterly controversial pension reform pushed through by President Emmanuel Macron’s government a day before a crucial no-confidence vote in Parliament.

After weeks of peaceful strikes and demonstrations against raising the official retirement age from 62 to 64, police closed the Place de la Concorde opposite Parliament to demonstrations on Saturday after two consecutive nights of clashes.

Some individual lawmakers have been targeted, with Eric Ciotti – leader of the conservative Republican Party who expected not to support the no-confidence motions – finding early Sunday that his constituency office had been stoned overnight.

“The killers who did this want to put pressure on my voice on Monday,” Ciotti wrote on Twitter, posting pictures showing smashed windows and threatening graffiti.

More than 80 people were arrested in a 4,000-strong demonstration in Paris on Saturday, which saw some set fire to trash cans, vandalized bus shelters and set up makeshift barricades.

And 15 others were detained in Lyon after police said “groups of violent individuals” sparked clashes.

Other demonstrations in cities across France were peaceful, with hundreds demonstrating in the Mediterranean port city of Marseille.

“What are we left to do but keep demonstrating?” said Romain Morizot, a 33-year-old telecommunications engineer, at the protests in Marseille.

After the government used a constitutional provision to bypass a parliamentary vote on pension reform, “this is now going to stoke social tensions everywhere,” Morizot added.

“We move on, we have no choice”.

Away from the streets of major cities, the far-left union CGT announced on Saturday that workers were closing France’s largest oil refinery in Normandy and warned that two more could follow on Monday.

So far, strikers have only stopped fuel shipments from leaving refineries, but have not shut down operations entirely.

Labor disputes have also halted garbage collection across much of Paris, with around 10,000 tonnes of rubbish on the streets, as the government forces some garbage collectors to return to work.

A ninth day of major strikes and protests is planned for Thursday.

People close to Macron told the AFP news agency that the president is “of course following developments” on the ground.

– ‘Add Chaos to Chaos’ –

In addition to raising the general retirement age, Macron’s reform also increases the number of years people must pay into the system to receive a full pension.

The government says its changes are necessary to avoid crippling deficits in the coming decades linked to France’s aging population.

But opponents say the law places an unfair burden on low earners, women and people in physically demanding jobs, and polls have consistently shown majorities oppose the changes.

A poll of 2,000 people, published weekly in the Journal du Dimanche on Sunday, gave Macron an approval rating of 28 percent, the lowest since mass “yellow vest” demonstrations in 2019 against a new fuel tax.

After Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne used Article 49.3 of the constitution to pass the law without a vote in the National Assembly’s lower house, opponents’ last hope of blocking the reform is to overthrow the government in one of Monday’s no-confidence votes.

Labor Minister Olivier Dussopt told the JDD that “it is not an admission of failure, but it is heartbreaking” to have used the nuclear option to pass the reform.

The pension changes are “too important to risk playing Russian roulette,” he added after weeks of making concessions to Republicans – who have long been in favor of raising the retirement age – failed to get enough Conservative MPs on board to do so one to secure majority.

Few lawmakers in the recalcitrant group of Republicans are expected to vote against the government in Monday’s no-confidence motions tabled by a small group of centrist lawmakers and the far-right National Rally.

Ciotti said he didn’t want to “add chaos to chaos”.

Source: Crypto News Deutsch

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