Violence erupts in French pension protests

STORY: Paris became a battleground late Thursday as police tried to quell angry protesters, after the French government pushed through an unpopular pensions bill without a vote.

As the French Prime Minister announced in parliament she would trigger special constitutional procedures to enact the reforms, a crowd of around 7,000 people gathered opposite the parliament, across the river Sienne, in a spontaneous protest.

Some people flung cobblestones at the authorities, who responded with tear gas and water cannon.

Fires burned in streets nearby, and cars were set alight.

West of Paris in the city of Nantes, black-clad protesters shielding themselves with umbrellas faced off against riot police.

They retreated as the gas thickened, but not before they left behind determined messages, saying:

“Let us destroy what destroys us.”

Opinion polls show the pension reform plans pushed by President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist government are deeply unpopular.

The bill calls for a higher retirement age of 64, two years more than what it was which the government says is essential to make sure the pension system does not go bust.

Left-wing opposition parties say the pension overhaul is unfair and unnecessary.

While far-right politicians such as Marine Le Pen have seized upon the government’s move to skip a vote to force the bill through, calling it “an extraordinary sign of weakness”.

Unions now call for another day of strikes and action next Thursday against the reform.

France has seen weeks of unrest brought by backlash to the bill, bringing widespread disruption to train services, fuel deliveries, teachers, and even garbage collectors walking off their jobs, leaving uncollected garbage rotting on the streets of Paris.