Protests turn ugly in France as striker numbers dwindle

Protesters disrupted car traffic at Paris’ main airport and police fired clouds of tear gas in other French cities as people marched in a new round of strikes and nationwide demonstrations on Thursday seeking to get President Emmanuel Macron to scrap pension reforms

Macron’s plans to raise the national retirement age from 62 to 64 has sparked a months-long firestorm of public outrage.

The Interior Ministry on Thursday 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 rodent cadavers at City Hall on Wednesday in one of the more memorable illustrations of how Macron’s plans to raise the national retirement age is fuelling anger on the streets.

Elsewhere, largely peaceful crowds marched behind unions’ colored flags and banners in Marseille on the Mediterranean coast, Bordeaux in the southwest, Lyon in the southeast 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. The use of police tear was also reported in Lyon and the Brittany city of Rennes.

Paris burns

In Paris, police were pelted by projectiles when the protest reached La Rotonde, a restaurant celebrated in by Macron after the 2017 presidential election that he went on to win. Some parts of the awning of the chic venue were set on fire, before the flames were extinguished by officers. 

At least 20 people were detained by police in Paris.

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

A member of the Paris riot police momentarily fell unconscious after being hit by a cobblestone. The officer quickly regained consciousness.

Experts say violence seen in the nationwide protests, with dozens of demonstrators and police hurt, has turned off less activist 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.

In Lyon, police fired tear gas to disperse a crowd outside a Nespresso coffee store that was being looted.

Ten previous rounds of nationwide strikes and protests since January have failed to get Macron to change course, and there was no sign from his government that Thursday’s 11th round of upheaval would make it back down.

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