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Protests against Emmanuel Macron’s pension reform turn violent

What is leaving In France? On the night of the riots of March 23, Paris saw 903 arson attacks, burning bins full of uncollected, fetid waste. In Bordeaux, rioters set the gates of the city hall ablaze.Across France, 457 people were arrested, 441 police and military police Injured in street clashes.

The violence came at the end of a one-day national strike, the ninth since the start of the year. More than a million people marched against President Emmanuel Macron’s decision to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64. France and Britain jointly decided on March 24 to postpone King Charles’ four-day visit, which was supposed to begin two days later, because of street unrest.

Not only is the practical challenge of organizing such a visit tricky, but so is the symbolism. Among other events, Mr Macron will host the king at a banquet at the former Palace of Versailles, where Louis XVI was the last French monarch before the French Revolution, before he was guillotined. “The French people know how to scare all monarchs. Be it Buckingham Palace or the Elysee Palace!” Manon Aubry, MEP from the hard left Indomitable France party, tweeted after the postponement was announced. Sent a happy tweet.

Why are the French so angry?On the one hand, they are simply denying collective The idea that they should retire later. Opinion polls have consistently shown public opinion against Macron’s proposals, even as many European countries with similarly aging populations have raised the pension age.

However, France’s anger doesn’t stop there. Some of this has turned violent as hardcore agitators join political protesters in acts of vandalism, often targeting symbols of the state. The outrage was first and foremost directed at the way the legislation was forced through parliament. Mr Macron’s decision to bypass regular voting and use Article 49.3 of the constitution has instead put his government’s very existence at risk. On March 20, it survived two no-confidence votes in parliament, including one by just nine votes.

Using clause 49.3 is perfectly legal; in fact, it has been activated 100 times since 1958. But it’s politically controversial, especially for totemic reforms like raising the retirement age. Opponents have successfully portrayed it as a way of imposing decisions against the will of the people, all the more so when made by a leader who is often seen as disconnected and disjointed.

Speaking in Brussels on March 24, Mr Macron vowed not to give in to “violence”. His pension reform must now be reviewed by a constitutional council before it can be written into statute. Protests could last as long as then, if not longer. Opponents know that the streets can defeat reforms even after they pass. In 2006, mass protests forced then-prime minister Dominique de Villepin to shelve a labor reform that had been enshrined in law. Another one-day strike was held on 28 March.

Even before the unrest, Mr Macron’s approval rating had fallen to 28%, the lowest since 2019. yellow vest (yellow jacket) sports. The level of violence is especially chilling in a country that romanticizes the mob. For now, public opinion appears to support the protesters, although that opinion may fade if the violence continues.

This is a nasty situation with no easy solution. Mr Macron appears ready to ride out the storm. He knew the measure was unpopular but thought it was necessary; his reputation as a reformist leader was at stake. “He is determined not to do what de Villepin did,” one minister said. However, the mood in France remains volatile. The president needs to work harder to reconnect with people and show them he can listen.

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