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France deploys 13,000 police as anti-pension reform protests gather momentum

 UPI News logo: MainLogo UPI News 3/28/2023 Paul Godfrey

March 28 (UPI) -- A fresh wave of demonstrations and disruption aimed at forcing the French government to reverse plans to raise the pension age materialized as promised Tuesday.

The Interior Ministry said it expected disorder at Tuesday's protests and had deployed 13,000 police -- 5,500 of them in Paris -- to counter it.

"Our services anticipate that there will be important disruption to public order. More than 1,000 radical activists, some arriving from abroad, may join the protests in Paris, Nantes or Rennes," said Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin.

Disruption is expected to affect public transport, universities, schools and public services, while motorists faced fuel shortages caused by picketing of oil refineries by striking workers.

Aviation authorities ordered Bordeaux, Marseille, Toulouse and Paris' Orly airports to cancel a fifth of flights scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday.

Protestors from four main unions occupied Biarritz Airport forcing the evacuation of the terminal after smoke bombs were set off inside and outside the entrance of the building.

Sporadic protests have continued over the past four days as discontent has flowed over into other issues of contention -- from the environment to a system that concentrates virtually all political power in Paris and allowed the pensions reforms to be forced through the National Assembly without a vote.

Unions and protesters had pledged to follow up Thursday's day of action which escalated into chaotic scenes of violence and destruction across France as protesters torched public property and clashed with police, with more than 450 people arrested.

The unrest forced President Emmanuel Macron to postpone a state visit by Britain's King Charles III who had been due to arrive in Paris on Sunday.

The deteriorating situation forced Macron to call crisis talks Monday with Prime Minister Elizabeth Borne and senior political leaders.

Fears are growing over the levels of violence with widespread unease over heavy-handed tactics with complaints over protestors being injured and arrested without due cause.

In an open letter Monday, more than two dozen lawyers accused the police of using the judicial system and arrests as a tactic to deter people from protesting.

An investigation is underway into an incident that left a man in a coma Monday after protestors clashed with police in the west of the country.

The police's internal affairs unit said that it had mounted 17 investigations into incidents and allegations against police across France in the past few weeks.

Macron's legislation to raise the national pension age from 62 to 64 was forced through the National Assembly two weeks ago by using a part of the French constitution that enables the government to pass a law without a vote by MPs.

The change is opposed by trade unions and the majority of people but Macron, who has made reform of the country's generous pension system the cornerstone of his presidency, says the country cannot afford the ballooning deficits it will run up over the next 25 years as the country's population ages.


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