Nationwide protests in France follow Macron’s doubling of pension bill

PARIS, March 23 (Reuters) – Garbage littered the streets of France on Thursday, disrupting train services and closing some schools as part of a ninth day of nationwide strikes against a deeply unpopular bill to raise the retirement age.

Demonstrators blocked a highway near Toulouse in southwestern France early in the morning and a bus depot in Rennes to the west, Le Parisien newspaper said. Later, protest rallies were planned across the country.

President Emmanuel Macron said on Wednesday that the law – which his government put through parliament last week without a vote – would take effect by the end of the year despite growing anger across the country.

“The best response we can give to the president is that millions of people are on strike and in the streets,” said Philippe Martínez, who leads the hardline CGT union.

Protests against policy changes that would raise the retirement age by two years to 64 and speed up the number of years of work needed to get a full pension.

Most of the protests have been peaceful, but anger has grown since the government tabled the bill in parliament last week without a vote.

Over the past seven nights, Paris and other cities have seen spontaneous demonstrations with trash cans set on fire and clashes with police.

Labor unions said Thursday’s day of strikes and protests would draw large crowds against what they described as Macron’s “ridicules” and “lies”.

Laurent Berger, head of the moderate CFDT, France’s largest union, told BFM TV that the government should withdraw the pension law.

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The latest wave of protests is the most serious challenge to the president’s authority since the “yellow uniform” uprising four years ago. Polls show a large majority of French oppose the pension law, despite the government’s decision to push it through parliament without a referendum.

Labor Minister Olivier Dussopt said the government was not in denial about the tensions but wanted to move forward.

“There is continued disagreement on retirement age. On the other hand, there are many lessons to renew a conversation,” he said, about how companies share their profits with workers.

He said the work will be carried out gradually.

Power supply was cut on Thursday as part of the strike in the sector.

The government has renewed an order calling for some workers to return to work at the Fos-sur-Mer fuel depot in southern France to protect petrol supplies for the region.

Reporting by Dominique Vidalon, Forrest Grellin, John Irish, Ingrid Melander, Sudip Kar-Gupta; Editing by David Gregorio and Christina Finzer

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