Pension protests increase pressure on Macron ahead of France’s crucial vote

The move, which followed weeks of protests against pension reform, sparked three nights of unrest and demonstrations in Paris and across the country reminiscent of the Yellow Vest protests that erupted in late 2018 over high fuel prices.

However, while Monday’s vote may put anger at Macron’s government on display, they are unlikely to topple him.

Opposition MPs tabled two no-confidence motions in parliament on Friday.

The centrist group Liot proposed a multi-party vote of no confidence, which was signed by the left-wing Nupes alliance. Hours later, France’s far-right National Unity party, which has 88 members in the National Assembly, also tabled a vote of no confidence.

But even though Macron’s party lost its absolute majority in the lower house in last year’s election, there was little chance of the multi-party proposal going ahead – unless a surprise coalition of lawmakers from all sides, from the far left to the far right, was formed.

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Leaders of the conservative Les R├ępublicains (LR) party have ruled out such an alliance. None of them sponsored the first vote of no confidence tabled on Friday.

But the party still faced some pressure.

In the southern city of Nice, the political office of LR party leader Eric Ciotti was ransacked overnight and tags were left threatening riots if the motion was not supported.

“They want to use violence to pressure my vote on Monday. I will never give in to the new followers of Terror,” Ciotti wrote on Twitter.

Macron’s overhaul raises the minimum retirement age by two years to 64, which the government says is essential to ensure the system does not collapse.

“I think there will not be a majority to overthrow the government. But this will be the moment of truth,” Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire told Le Parisien newspaper, commenting on the prospects for Monday’s vote.

“Is the pension reform worth the overthrow of the government and the political disorder? The answer is absolutely no. Everyone must take their responsibilities,” he added.

“We are trampled”

Macron put pension reform at the center of his successful re-election campaign last year, but lost his parliamentary majority in the next election – in part due to opposition to his pension plans.

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Critics say the planned changes are unfair to people who start working at a young age in physically demanding jobs, and to women who interrupt their careers to raise children.

Opinion polls show more than two-thirds of French people oppose the reform, while Macron’s popularity has fallen to just 28 percent, according to a poll published Sunday by the Journal du Dimanche.

On Saturday, police banned gatherings in a key Paris square opposite parliament after two nights of unrest at the site.

However, thousands of protesters gathered in another part of the capital, with some erecting barricades in the streets, setting rubbish bins on fire and smashing billboards.

Security forces attacked the demonstrators and used tear gas and water cannons on the Place d’Italie. A police source said officers arrested 81 people at or near the scene.

There were protests in other cities as regional unions called for a weekend of demonstrations.

Arianne Laget, 36, was among about 200 people demonstrating in the small southern town of Lodew.

“We’re fed up,” she said. We feel as if we are being trampled on and no one is listening.

Thousands took to the streets in the western city of Nantes, where one placard read “Death to the King” in an apparent reference to the president.

Some protesters threw bottles at members of the security forces, who responded with tear gas, an AFP photographer said.

Unions have called for another day of nationwide strikes and rallies on Thursday.

Meanwhile, garbage collectors in Paris went on a rolling strike, leaving around 10,000 tons of garbage festering in the streets.

A union representative on Saturday said strikers at three incinerators outside Paris would run several garbage trucks “to limit the risk of an epidemic.”

(FRANCE 24 with Reuters, AFP)

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