French officials say 1.27 million protested pension reforms
An estimated 1.27 million people took to the streets of French cities, towns and villages Tuesday, according to the Interior Ministry, in new massive protests against the government’s key pension reform plans.
The turnout exceeded participation in a previous round of strikes and protests against the proposed retirement age increase, in a significant victory for labor unions.
The eight unions organizing the protests promptly announced that they would organize new demonstrations on Feb. 7 and Feb. 11.
“In the face of massive rejection, the government must withdraw its reform,” said Patricia Drevon of the Workers’ Force union. She stood beside colleagues from the other unions in a rare show of solidarity.
The powerful CGT union claimed that 2.8 million protesters marched Tuesday.
The nationwide strikes and protests were a crucial test both for President Emmanuel Macron and his opponents. The government says it is determined to push through Macron’s election pledge to reform France’s pension system. And strong popular resentment will strengthen efforts by labor unions and left-wing legislators to block the bill, which would raise the retirement age from 62 to 64.
In the capital, police said 87,000 people took to the streets — up from 80,000 in the first big pension protest on Jan. 19, when authorities said 1 million people demonstrated nationwide. Union estimates had doubled that figure.
The overall peaceful Paris march was marred by scattered clashes between a small group of black-clad radicals and riot police, who fired tear gas at Les Invalides, site of Napoleon’s tomb towards the end of the march that stretched across the city. Police reported 30 arrests.
Some 11,000 police were on duty for an estimated 250 protests nationwide.
“Today, the government is in a corner. It has only to withdraw its reform,” Erik Meyer of the Sud Rail union — one of eight which organized the march — said on BFM TV.
Veteran left-wing leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon celebrated “a historic day” of protests and predicted defeat for Macron.
“It’s not often that we see such a mass mobilization,” he said, speaking in the southern city of Marseille. “It’s a form of citizens’ insurrection.”