Paris (CNN) At least 310 people have been detained in France as the embattled government faces a backlash for imposing pension reforms that will raise the country’s retirement age by two years.
Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin told French radio RTL that most of the arrests made on Thursday night – 258 – were in Paris. Although calm had returned to the capital’s streets by Friday morning, government ministers were on the defensive following Thursday night’s impromptu protests.
The French government on Thursday pushed through controversial plans to raise the country’s retirement age from 62 to 64, a move that sparked weeks of protests across the country.
Government spokesman Olivier Verand and Budget Minister Gabriel Attal echoed President Emmanuel Macron’s assertion that the government did not want to use its constitutional powers to push through the law. They spoke to French publications LCI and France Inter respectively.
“If we don’t [the reforms] today, these are much more brutal measures that we will have to take in the future,” said Atal.
Protesters briefly blocked Paris’ ring road Friday morning to protest pension reform, causing long delays on the morning commute, according to CNN affiliate BFMTV.
And the garbage collectors’ strike, which has left many streets in Paris littered with garbage bags, continues. Interior Minister Darmanin said he would order the police to force some of them to work.
“I respect the garbage collectors’ strike, he said, but what is not acceptable is the unsanitary conditions.
In a note on Thursday evening, the interior ministry, in the context of the backlash over pension reforms, called on security forces to “firmly maintain” the protection of elected officials in France, who are “sometimes subject to threats, insults or even malicious acts such as damage to property. ”
Prime Minister Elizabeth Bourne announced in the National Assembly earlier Thursday that Macron would trigger special constitutional powers to pass the proposed pension reform bill.
“We can’t bet on the future of our pensions,” Bourne said to jeers and chants from MPs. “This reform is necessary.
Labor leaders in France called for fresh demonstrations after Bourne’s statement, with several thousand people gathering in Paris’ Place de la Concorde and several other French cities on Thursday night.
“Having recourse to [constitutional article] 49.3, the government has demonstrated that it does not have the majority to approve the two-year delay in the legal retirement age,” tweeted Laurent Berger, head of the CFDT, one of the unions leading the protests.
Philippe Martinez, head of the CGT union, also called for more strikes and protests, according to CNN affiliate BFMTV.
Mass protests have been held regularly across France since mid-January, with millions turning out to voice their opposition to the government’s plan. Mass strikes affected transport and education.
The government says reform is needed to keep the pension system’s finances out of the red in the coming years.
“The aim is to balance the accounts without raising taxes or cutting pensions. There are various options on the table, but they all include raising the retirement age,” government spokesman Olivier Veran told reporters in January, according to Reuters.
The pension reform bill was passed by the French Senate earlier on Thursday, but would have faced a bigger hurdle getting through the National Assembly, the lower house of the country’s parliament.
The session was suspended earlier for Borne’s announcement. Lawmakers erupted in chaotic scenes as she explained the government’s decision, struggling to be heard as MPs sang the French national anthem “The Marseillaise” and others held signs reading “Not at 64”.
Bourne also criticized far-right MPs in the lower house for not backing the legislation.
Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Unity party, called on the prime minister to step down.
“After the slap the Prime Minister just gave the French people by imposing a reform they don’t want, I think Elizabeth Bourne should go,” Le Pen tweeted on Thursday.
Pension reform in France, where the right to retire with a full pension at 62 is deeply valued, has always been an extremely sensitive issue, and even more so now that social discontent is growing over the rising cost of living.
But with one of the lowest retirement ages in the industrialized world, France also spends more than most other countries on pensions at nearly 14 percent of economic output, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.