Macron avoids crowds on latest trip to provincial France after pensions crisis

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President Emmanuel Macron refrained from close contact with the public on Tuesday after he signed a wildly unpopular pension reform into French provinces.

During Macron’s visit to eastern France last Wednesday, the head of state and some residents dissatisfied with the raising of the retirement age from 62 to 64 and his style of governance sparked a bitter face-to-face confrontation.

Just over a year since he took office for the second time, a trip to the Loire region of central France had not seen a similar walk to meet local residents, an AFP reporter said.

Hundreds of people showed up to bang on pans – a traditional symbol of French political protest – but Macron was whisked away to a health center in the town of Vendôme, which he was visiting.

“This is to wake up our president and make him stop making fun of us,” said Bruno Vivian, a retired metallurgist, who used a horn to protest.

>> Read more: A look back at when French protesters defeated government reform plans

They aired their displeasure by banging cans and booing within earshot of the president, who was flown back to Paris by helicopter at the end of the visit.

Local authorities banned any protests around the area Macron visited, but a court in the nearby city of Orleans overturned the ruling after complaints from human rights groups.

Demonstrators expressed their displeasure by banging on pans. © Gonzalo Fuentes, AFP

“inciting violence”

With his approval ratings plummeting after the pension reform was signed, Macron has set a 100-day target to restart his second term in office, with Prime Minister Elizabeth Bohn set to announce the plan on Wednesday.

“We have to focus on the heart of the subject and the lives of our fellow citizens, not the ornaments,” said Macron, who made no major announcements on the health sector during his visit.

Tensions were felt across Macron’s government after Education Minister Pap Ndiaye’s visit to Lyon was interrupted on Monday when protesters stormed an academy he was supposed to be visiting.

>> Read more: ‘Macron resigns!’: French president struggles to shake off pension controversy

Education Minister Papundiaye's train blocked by protesters
Education Minister Papundiaye’s train blocked by protesters © Geoffroy Van der Hasselt, AFP

The minister later angrily denounced the Twitter post giving the time of his train back to Paris and telling people to rally at the station.

“Photos of target, assembly time at train station: this is an incitement to violence,” he tweeted.

The gathering of hundreds of protesters at Gare de Lyon in Paris meant that Ndiaye was unable to disembark from his TGV train and had to be escorted out by a side door.

“It’s not enough yet”

Meanwhile, after protesters were filmed burning an effigy of Macron in the southeastern city of Grenoble, prosecutors said they had opened an investigation into whether contempt was shown for someone with public power.

>> Read more: ‘Abandoned by everyone’: Why French town is against Macron’s pension reform

Protesters who slam marijuana try to salute the president.
Protesters who slam marijuana try to salute the president. © Jean-Francois Monier, AFP

Macron, 45, conceded over the weekend that he may not have enough of a campaign to pass the pension reform, which passed parliament after the government used a mechanism to bypass MPs’ votes.

“Perhaps the mistake was not being presented enough,” he told Le Parisien.

>> Read more: Le Pen opposes pension reform, focus on public order ‘pays off’ in polls


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