Protest in France turns violent; 457 arrested

ANKARA – France saw a night of violence on Thursday when protests against the government’s controversial pension reform got off course.

It marked the ninth day of planned mobilization since January, with thousands of workers protesting and walking out in various sectors, including transportation, energy, and education.

Violent groups infiltrated the parades in Paris, Bordeaux, and Lyon, and engaged in vandalism. They set fire to dumpsters, trash, and building gates, targeted banks, and threw bottles at police, according to local media reports.

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin Friday told broadcaster CNEWS that 457 people were arrested on Thursday night across France, 441 police officers were injured, and 933 fires were set to street furniture and trash in Paris.

Darmanin expressed concern over the high presence of ultra-left groups in the protests.

Pension reform plan, source of popular furor

The French government used special constitutional powers last week to force the plan through, prompting opposing parties to submit no-confidence motions that were later rejected.

President Emmanuel Macron and Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne decided to invoke Article 49.3 of the constitution, a mechanism that lets the government adopt a draft bill without parliamentary approval.

The decision was driven by fear that lawmakers would be able to block the reforms as the government does not hold an absolute majority in the legislature.

The government revealed the reform project in January and parliament started examining and debating the draft bill the following month. Workers and trade unions have since expressed growing outrage by holding demonstrations and walkouts.

The reform project includes raising the retirement age from 62 to 64 by 2030, and requiring at least 43 years of service to be eligible for a full pension.

King Charles visit to France suspended

Meanwhile, Britain’s King Charles III’s visit to France has been postponed due to the mass strikes and protests, the French presidency said.

The three-day visit was supposed to start on March 26.

The French and British governments took the decision after a phone conversation between President Emmanuel Macron and King Charles on Friday morning, the Elysee Palace said in a statement, according to media reports.

The decision was taken so the king’s visit could be hosted “under circumstances that suit our friendly relationship,” the statement read, recalling that new strikes in France are planned for March 28.

The French presidency also said the visit would be rescheduled as soon as possible. (Anadolu)