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Demonstrators set to paralyse France in massive pension reform protests

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French trade unions will face off against President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday, planning new strikes and protests against a controversial pension reform he is advocating.

Unions have vowed to stop the country from enacting proposed reforms that would include raising the retirement age from 62 to 64 and increasing the number of years after which workers must contribute to a full pension.

“I call on all employees, citizens and retirees across the country who oppose the pension reform to come out and protest collectively,” CFDT union president Laurent Berger told France Inter radio on Monday.

“The president cannot turn a deaf ear to the protests,” he added.

“There is a huge social movement today … that requires a political response.”

The president made the plan a centerpiece of his re-election bid last year, and his cabinet said the reforms were crucial to preventing the pension system from falling into the red in years to come.

But they face strong resistance from parliament and the streets, with nearly two-thirds of the country backing protests against it, according to a poll published Monday by the Elabe inquiry group.

expected to exceed one million

Unions have warned that rotating public transport strikes could paralyze parts of the country for weeks, starting Tuesday.

Police expected between 11,000 and 1.4 million people to take to the streets at more than 260 locations across the country on Tuesday, a source told AFP on condition of anonymity.

The upper end of the range would mean stronger opposition than during the previous five-day rallies since mid-January.

On January 31, 1.27 million people took part in the largest demonstration to date, according to official figures.

Recent rallies last month drew smaller crowds, but unions have been betting on a revival on Tuesday, as weeks of school holidays end across France.

The demonstrations had taken shape early Tuesday morning, with the public road information service reporting that a state road in the city of Rennes had been blocked by around 100 protesters since 1am.

An AFP cameraman who was present described a tense scene with about 50 riot police standing by as fire, furniture and even melted shopping carts blocked the way.

The hardline CGT union said in a tweet: “On the roads of Rennes, at Port Gennevilliers, at the roundabouts of Rouen, at power stations: vigils for the March 7th strike have begun.”

Fuel supplies to refineries across France have also been disrupted by striking workers.

“Strikes have started everywhere … all refinery deliveries were stopped this morning,” said Eric Sellini, branch coordinator of the hardline CGT union, which launched a similar blockade last fall that ended up draining gas stations. do. fuel.

Before Tuesday, unions had promised to bring the country to a “standstill”.

Only a fifth of regional and high-speed trains are expected to run, while members of the main union representing refinery workers have vowed to “paralyze” the French economy.

School teachers will also go on strike.

On Monday night, Prime Minister Elizabeth Bohn said she respected people’s right to protest.

But she told France 5 in a TV interview that it was “irresponsible” for union leaders to call on people to bring the economy to a standstill because it would mainly punish the “most vulnerable” segments of the population.

“Need to work longer hours”

The government argues that the changes are crucial to getting France’s pension system out of deficit by 2030.

The proposals would bring France closer to its European neighbors, most of which have a retirement age of 65 or higher.

After weeks of silence on the topic, Macron said last month there was no “miracle” solution to securing future pensions.

“If we want to keep the system going, we need to work longer hours,” he said.

But unions argue the proposed measures are unfair and would disproportionately affect low-skilled workers who start their careers early in tiring jobs.

According to Elabe’s survey, 56 percent of respondents said they supported rotating strikes.

Fifty-nine percent said they supported calls to bring the country to a standstill.

After two weeks of intense debate in the House of Commons, the bill is now being debated in the upper house of parliament, but in the end there was not even a vote on raising the retirement age.

Monday’s Senate debate continued until after 3 a.m. on Tuesday, with the body’s right-leaning majority rejecting a left-wing alternative proposal to fund the pension system. Debate is scheduled to resume at 2:30 pm.

The centrist government wants to push through parliamentary reforms with help from the right, rather than resorting to a controversial mechanism that would bypass parliamentary votes but threatens to spark more protests.

(Reported by Agence France-Presse on the 24th)

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