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France prepares for another day of chaos and violence – POLITICO

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PARIS — France is bracing for further chaos on Tuesday with a day of protests planned against Emmanuel Macron’s hated pension reform and unions calling for a general strike.

Protests last Thursday descended into turmoil with clashes between police and protesters and scenes of violence across the country. Following the unrest, which resulted in more than 450 arrests, the French president was forced to cancel a state visit by King Charles III for security reasons.

Public transport, universities, schools and public services are expected to be disrupted again on Tuesday. The impact of industrial action is felt in all sectors and areas of public life. A continued strike by garbage collectors in Paris means rubbish is still piled up in parts of the French capital, and a strike at refineries has led to fuel shortages at some petrol pumps.

Despite widespread unrest, the French president promised last week he would not backtrack on the pension reform which raises the retirement age from 62 to 64, saying it was ‘necessary’ for the country to balance the accounts of its generous pension plan.

The French government sparked outrage when it invoked Article 49.3 of the French constitution to push through its pension reform, in a controversial move that sidestepped a vote in parliament it was supposed to lose. The government narrowly survived two no-confidence motions in the National Assembly after this controversial decision.

Tuesday’s protest could indicate whether Macron’s inflexibility is stoking more discontent on the streets or whether the protest movement is starting to falter. French police have been accused of using heavy-handed tactics and students and pupils are likely to join the protests in greater numbers. On Saturday, a man was left in critical condition after clashes with police at a French water tank project.

Deadlock on pension reform

Ahead of Tuesday’s protests, Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne called for talks with unions and announced she would no longer use Article 49.3 except when it comes to budget measures.

“It is clear that there are tensions on the reform, we must listen,” she told AFP on Sunday. “[We need] calm the country and quickly give answers to the French.

Demonstration by striking Totalenergies employees in front of the Gronfreville-l’Orcher refinery | Lou Benoist/AFP via Getty Images

However, talks between the government and unions on pension reform have stalled. Macron said he was open to discussing a range of issues, including working conditions, wages and work-related constraints, but not pension reform. Unions say they would only agree to talks if the government agrees to review the statutory retirement age.

With no clear outcome and following a series of violent incidents in recent weeks, unions fear France is facing a socio-political crisis similar to the yellow vests movement that rocked the country in 2018- 2019.

Union leader Laurent Berger warned on Monday that France was in “a state of total tension”.

“There is a common will [with the government] find a way out of this protest movement and not sink into a madness that could take over the country, with violence and resentment”, he warned in an interview with the French channel France 2.

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