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French Senate advances Macron’s pension reform plan as strikes continue


The French Senate voted late Saturday to approve a deeply unpopular overhaul of the country’s pension system, hours after demonstrators took to the streets against a cornerstone policy of President Emmanuel Macron’s second term.

Senators approved the reform in a 195-112 vote, bringing the package one step closer to becoming law. A committee will now finalize the final draft, which will then be sent to the Senate and National Assembly for a final vote.

“Tonight’s broad Senate vote on the pension reform text is an important step,” Prime Minister Elizabeth Bohn told AFP after the vote, adding she believed the government, with its majority in parliament, could The reform passed into law.

However, if Macron’s government fails to secure the necessary majority, Borne can deploy a rarely used and highly controversial constitutional tool, Article 49/3, to push legislation through without a vote.

Unions, which strongly oppose the measures, still hope to force Macron to back down on Saturday, even though protests against the reforms that day were far smaller than some earlier ones.

“This is the final stage,” CFDT union vice-president Marylise Leon told broadcaster Franceinfo on Saturday. “Now is the end.”

Tensions rose that night, with Paris police saying they made 32 arrests after some protesters threw objects at security forces, trash cans were burned and windows were broken.

In a last-ditch effort to change his mind, Macron twice this week rejected urgent calls from unions to meet him.

The snub made the union “very angry,” said Felipe Martinez, boss of the hard-left CGT union.

“When there are millions of people in the street, when there is a strike and all we get from the other side is silence, people wonder: what else do we need to do to be heard?” he said, calling for a referendum on pension reform.

Some 368,000 people took part in protests across the country, less than half the 800,000 to 1 million police had forecast, the Interior Ministry said.

In Paris, 48,000 people attended the rally, compared with the police forecast of around 100,000.

The union pegged attendance at 1 million, and they hoped turnout would be higher on Saturday, when most people wouldn’t have to take time off to attend. On Saturday, February 11, also, 963,000 people demonstrated, according to the police.

On Tuesday, the last day of general strikes and protests, fewer than 1.3 million people turned out to vote, according to police, and more than 3 million, according to unions.

“The Future of Children”

The main measure of the reform is to raise the minimum retirement age from 62 to 64, which many people think is unfair to people who start working young.

“I’m here to fight for my colleagues and for our young people,” said Claude Jeanvoine, 63, a retired train driver who was demonstrating in Strasbourg, in eastern France.

“People should not let the government get away with it, it’s the future of their children and grandchildren at stake,” he told AFP.

The reforms will also increase the number of years people must contribute to receive the full pension.

Protesters say women, especially mothers, are also disadvantaged under the new reforms.

“If I had known this was going to happen, I wouldn’t have stopped working when the kids were young,” said Sophie Merle, a 50-year-old childcare provider in the southern city of Marseille.

Unions have called for an indefinite strike, with multiple sectors of the French economy being targeted, including rail and air transport, power stations, gas terminals and waste collection.

In Paris on Saturday, urban traffic was barely affected by the outage, apart from some suburban train lines.

But uncollected rubbish has started piling up in some neighborhoods of the capital, and airlines have canceled about 20 percent of flights scheduled at French airports.

A poll published by BFMTV on Saturday found that 63 percent of French people approve of protests against the reforms, while 54 percent also favor strikes and blockades in some sectors.

Some 78 percent, however, said they believed Macron would eventually pass the reforms.


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