May 28, 2024

Carnage is erupting on the streets of France tonight after French President Emmanuel Macron’s flagship pension reform passed a vital constitutional milestone despite months of disruptive strikes and protests.

The legislation, which pushes the age at one can draw a full pension to 64 from 62, is deeply unpopular in France and has triggered huge disruption.

After the decision was announced by the Constitutional Council on Friday, largescale protests began around the country and quickly turned violent – with 112 people arrested in Paris alone.

Police used tear gas in Lyon and Strasbourg and water cannons in Paris to control the streets, while protesters set fires, built barricades and let off flares in the centre of the capital. 

Officers were seen charging down streets in cities across France as they battled protesters angry about the reforms. In Nantes, a police station was briefly set on fire by rioters before being extinguished.

The front of a police station was set on fire by protesters against Macron’s pension reforms in Rennes on Friday

Barricades made of metal boards, dustbins and fires have been hastily erected in Paris as police respond to protesters

A protester throws a tear gas canister during clashes with police during a demonstration in Nantes on Friday evening

Protesters are marching on the centre of Paris, with 3,000 people already assembled outside the town hall by 5pm BST, according to French media. 

Demonstrations are taking place in major French cities including Paris, Rennes, Toulouse, Lyon and Nantes.

In Paris protesters have let off flares and set fire to bikes outside the town hall, triggering a significant response by police. Dustbins and other items have also been set on fire around the city.

Some have erected barricades in the streets of the capital, using sheets of metal, bins, wood and fire. A march is approaching the Place de la Bastille, where the infamous Bastille prison once stood. 

Police have arrested some protesters, including around a dozen young people who were pictured being detained by officers with batons and tear gas.

In Nantes, bottles and other projectiles have been thrown at police by some protesters, causing the police to respond with water cannons. Protesters are attempting to disrupt major roads and tramways by creating lines of burning dustbins. 

Shortly after 8pm BST, a Nantes police station was set aflame by protesters, with the entire entranceway alight, before a water cannon was used to extinguish the flames. 

French gendarmes in riot gear stand guard near a blaze at one of the entrances of the former Convent of the Jacobins after it was set on fire in Rennes on Friday

Protesters watch as the entrance to a police station in Rennes burns

Protestors light a fire with motocycles in front of the Hotel de Ville on Friday night in Paris

A man is arrested while protesting on the streets of Paris on Friday, April 14

Protesters set fire to bicycles in central Paris after the decision to increase retirement age was approved

Dozens of garbage bins have been taken and set alight in Paris in protest against the pension reforms

As night fell in Paris, multiple fires were still burning around the city

Tear gas has been deployed by police against protesters in Lyon, where small outbreaks of violence have been reported

Riot police detain a protester on the ground in Paris on Friday

Police officers defend the entrance to the Constitutional Court in Paris from protesters using water cannons

Dozens of police officers run towards protesters in the centre of Paris on Friday

In Paris activists have also targeted luxury goods stores and vandalised shops

Graffiti on a shop in Paris accusing the rich of costing the people of France large amounts of money

Protesters gathered outside Paris City Hall, holding banners reading ‘climate of anger’ and ‘no end to the strikes until the reform is pulled’ when the Constitutional Council’s verdict was announced

A police water cannon is used to extinguish a fire in Rennes, western France

Police charge down the streets of Paris in a bid to disrupt violent activists

A protester throws a bottle during a demonstration after France’s Constitutional Council approved the key elements of French President’s pension reform, in Nantes

Protestors light red flares in front of the Olympic Rings at the Hotel De Ville on Friday evening

Protesters kick away tear gas canisters launched by police in the eastern city of Strasbourg

Protesters gathered at Place de la Bastille in Paris on Friday evening where they let of flares

Macron and his government hoped this outcome would discourage further trade union-led protests, which have at times turned violent – but this does not seem to be the case.

Protests have broken out almost weekly since January as around two in three people are against the highly unpopular reform. Approval from the council will bring France closer into line with its EU neighbours. 

Protesters gathered outside Paris City Hall, holding banners reading ‘climate of anger’ and ‘no end to the strikes until the reform is pulled’ when the Constitutional Council’s verdict was announced.

A heavy police presence is on scene in Lyon, with dozens of officers in riot gear battling to maintain control.

Shortly after 6pm BST, footage shared on social media appeared to show police using tear gas to disperse protesters after hundreds of people marched in the streets of the city. 

Barricades using pieces of metal fencing and mattresses were also seen in the city, with garbage set alight. 

Meanwhile in Rennes, an estimated 1,000 people gathered on Friday evening, with some starting fires and vandalising buildings.

A church door was set on fire, but firefighters arrived on scene to extinguish the flames. 

Spontaneous demonstrations were held around other areas of France ahead of the nine-member council’s ruling. Opponents of the pension reform blocked entry points into some cities, including Rouen in the west and Marseille in the south, slowing or stopping traffic.

French prime minister Elisabeth Borne was interrupted while visiting a supermarket outside Paris by a group of people chanting ‘we don’t want it,’ referring to the way she skirted the vote by lawmakers to advance the pension reform.

The government’s decision to get around a parliamentary vote in March by using special constitutional powers heightened the fury of the measure’s opponents, as well as their determination. Another group awaited Ms Borne in the car park.

‘We’re in a democracy, so everyone can express themselves,’ the prime minister told news station BFM TV. ‘My priority is to bring calm’ and to address concrete concerns, she said. She went into the store to discuss anti-inflation measures.

Demonstrators gather outside the Paris town hall, Friday, April 14, 2023 in Paris

A man holds a sign calling for a general strike in the western city of Rennes, France

Biles are set on fire outside Paris town hall early on Friday evening

French Gendarme come face to face with protesters as they attempt to keep order in Paris

Protestors gather in front of Paris’ city hall ahead of the results of a ruling from France’s Constitutional Council on the pension reforms

Police Gendarmes control a street during a demonstration after the French constitutional court approved the key elements of the controversial pension reform in Paris

Protesters carried large banners with slogans calling for strikes and the reversal of the reform

Flares are set off by French protesters on Friday evening in Paris

Demonstrators have already taken to the streets of Paris

On Friday French labour unions rejected Macron’s invitation to attend talks with the government next week over the reforms.

‘The country must continue to move forward, work, and face the challenges that await us,’ Macron said earlier this week.

But hardline unions and the opposition have warned they will not back down and have urged Macron not to promulgate it.

Separately, the Constitutional Council rejected a proposal by the opposition to organise a citizens’ referendum on the pension reform.

The opposition has tabled another bid for a referendum, which should be reviewed by the Council early May.

Political observers say the widespread discontent over the government’s reform could have longer-term repercussions, including a possible boost for the far right.

Images online show large numbers of people already protesting in French cities against the ruling, with hundreds of people walking through the streets of Paris. 

Police expect up to 10,000 people to gather in the capital on Friday night, with the presence of several hundred leftwing radicals raising fears of more vandalism and clashes that have marred recent rallies.

Thousands of protesters gathered in front of Paris city hall and booed the court decision when it was announced on Friday evening.

The offices of the Constitutional Council, a short walk from the Louvre museum, have been protected with barriers and dozens of riot police are on guard nearby.

The move is likely to enrage unions and other opponents of the pension plan, including protesters gathered in towns and cities around France on Friday evening as the decision was announced.

The council rejected some other measures in the pension Bill but the higher age was central to Mr Macron’s plan and the target of protesters’ anger.

Mr Macron can enact the Bill within 15 days.

After the ruling was announced, French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said: ‘The Constitutional Council has ruled…that the reform is in line with our constitution. The text arrives at the end of its democractic process. Tonight there is no winner, no loser.’

Members of Macron’s government, including the Labour Minister Olivier Dussopt, have congratulated the President on the success of the reforms.

Dussopt said the law would enter into force on September 1 as initially planned, brushing off requests by unions not to promulgate it in the face of huge public opposition.

Opinion polls show a vast majority oppose the reform, as well as the fact that the government invoked Article 49.3 of the constitution allowing it to pass the bill without a final vote in parliament that it might have lost.

The leader of the opposition socialist party, Olivier Faure, said: ‘The Constitutional Council only ruled on the legality of the law, its approval does not mean that this is a fair law… French people have fought this reform for months, they will be disappointed and the fight will take other forms.’

A protester holds a red flare during a demonstration in Toulouse after the court approved the key elements on French President’s unpopular pension reform

Protesters display a large sign in a square in Toulouse on Friday

Protesters hold signs and stand upon a truck on Nantes, which has the slogan ‘Nothing is too good for the people’

Thousands are gathering in French towns and cities across the nation

The legislation, which pushes the age at one can draw a full pension to 64 from 62, is deeply unpopular in France and has triggered huge protests

And Jean-Luc Melenchon, leader of the far-left party La France Insoumise, added: ‘The Constitutional Council decision shows that it is more attentive to the needs of the presidential monarchy than to those of the sovereign people. The fight continues and must gather its forces.’

Political observers say the widespread discontent over the government’s reform could have longer-term repercussions, including a possible boost for the far right.

Far-right leader Marine Le Pen wrote on Twitter that ‘the political fate of the pension reform is not sealed,’ urging voters to back those who oppose it in the next election so that they can scrap it.

Macron says the French must work longer or else the pension budget will fall billions of euros into the red each year by the end of the decade.

But the pension system is a cornerstone of France’s cherished social protection model and trade unions say the money can be found elsewhere, including by taxing the rich more heavily.

While attention has focused on the retirement age of 62, only 36 percent of French workers retire at that age and another 36 percent already retire older on account of requirements to pay into the system for at least 42 years in order to be able to claim a full pension.

That means the normal retirement age for a French worker who started working at the age of 22 was 64.5, marginally above a European Union average of 64.3, according to OECD figures based on 2020 data.