Paris shuts down as up to one million protest against pension reform

Mass demonstrations began on Thursday local time and are set to continue for several days.

Mass demonstrations began on Thursday local time and are set to continue for several days. Photo: Getty

The Eiffel Tower closed in Paris, France’s high-speed trains came to a standstill and more than 90 people were arrested as hundreds of thousands marched against the Macron government’s plan to overhaul the retirement system.

The famous Palace of Versailles shut down, the Louvre closed some of its galleries, 11 out of 16 subway stations across Paris closed their gates, with high-speed TGV trains cancelling their runs. Nearly 20 per cent of flights at Paris’ Orly Airport were reported grounded.

Agence France Presse reported the country’s leading union body CGT said up to 1.5 million people were out on the streets nationwide, in often-tense demonstrations aimed at forcing President Emmanuel Macron to abandon pension reform.

In Paris, as well as the south-eastern city of Lyon and west to Nantes, police fired teargas to disperse small groups of rioters.

However, the mostly peaceful striking transport workers, air traffic controllers, teachers, lawyers, fire fighters, doctors and nurses, students and environmentalists demonstrated against a government plan to replace 42 special pension schemes with just a single plan.

The retirement age in France is 62 years old, and lower for certain physically demanding jobs, and the government has promised not to touch the official retirement age. But, but the plan will encourage some people to work longer.

The open-ended walkout by the country’s unions represents the biggest challenge to Mr Macron since the yellow vest movement against economic inequality erupted a year ago.

“We haven’t seen such a turnout in a very long time,” Yves Veyrier, head of the Force Ouvriere union told the AFP news agency at the beginning of the Paris rally.

“We now expect the government to take the measure of this mobilisation, and understand that its universal system is a bad idea,” he said.

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe praised trade unions for keeping the protests on a tight rein, minimising the violence.

Paris rioters smash windows, hurl flares

In Paris, small groups of masked activists smashed store windows, set fires and hurled flares on the sidelines of a march that was otherwise peaceful. Demonstrators also shot firecrackers at police in body armour. Some journalists were mugged in the street.

Many visitors, including the US energy secretary, cancelled plans to travel to one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations.

Paris authorities barricaded the presidential palace and deployed 6000 police officers. Police ordered all businesses, cafes and restaurants in the area to close and detained 71 people before the demonstration even started.

Skirmishes broke out between police firing tear gas and protesters throwing flares in the western city of Nantes, and thousands of red-vested union activists marched through cities from Marseille on the Mediterranean to Lille in the north.

Lacking public transportation, commuters used shared bikes or electric scooters despite near-freezing temperatures. Many people in the Paris region worked from home or took a day off to stay with their children, since 78 per cent of teachers in the capital went on strike.

The deeply unpopular Macron is expected to reveal the details of his plan next week. r.

To Macron, the retirement reform is central to his plan to transform France so it can compete globally in the 21st century. The government argues France’s 42 retirement systems need streamlining.

-with AAP

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