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French pension protests mostly calm, uncollected trash grows

by The Associated Press | March 19, 2023 at 4:00 a.m.
A protester wearing a mask depicting French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne plays badminton during a demonstration in Marseille, southern France, Saturday, March 18, 2023. A spattering of protests are planned to continue in France over the weekend against President Emmanuel Macron's controversial pension reform. (AP Photo/Daniel Cole)

PARIS (AP) -- A smattering of protests against President Emmanuel Macron's plan to raise France's retirement age from 62 to 64 took place Saturday in Paris and beyond, as uncollected garbage continued to reek in the streets of the French capital amid a strike by sanitation workers.

Largely non-violent protests were held in various cities, including Nantes and Marseille, where protesters got past police to occupy the main train station for around 15 minutes. In the eastern city of Besancon, hundreds of demonstrators lit a brazier and burned voter cards.

In Paris, an eerie calm returned to most of the French capital after two consecutive nights of unrest. Police banned gatherings on the Champs-Elysées avenue and the elegant Place de la Concorde, where protesters tossed an effigy of Macron into a bonfire as a crowd cheered Friday night.

Several thousand protesters gathered Saturday evening at a public square in southern Paris, the Place d'Italie, where some people set trash cans on fire.

Protesters are trying to pressure lawmakers to bring down Macron's government and doom the unpopular retirement age increase he's trying to impose without a vote in the National Assembly.

After Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne invoked a special constitutional power to skirt a vote in the chaotic lower chamber, lawmakers on the right and left filed no-confidence motions against her Cabinet on Friday. The motions are expected to be voted on Monday.

Some Paris residents who were out buying their weekend baguettes blamed Macron's administration for the fumes wafting from the trash piled up near a bakery in the city's 12th district.

"The government should change its position and listen to the people because what is happening is extremely serious. And we are seeing a radicalization," Isabelle Vergriette, 64, a psychologist, said. "The government is largely responsible for this."

The district's mayor, Emmanuelle Pierre-Marie, was out and about from the crack of dawn voicing concern in her neighborhood about the consequences of the uncollected garbage, which has become a visual and olfactory symbol of the actions to defeat the president's pension reform plan.

"Food waste is our priority because it is what brings pests to the surface," Pierre-Marie said. "We are extremely sensitive to the situation. As soon as we have a dumpster truck available, we give priority to the places most concerned, like food markets."

More labor strikes were planned for Monday in numerous sectors, from transportation to energy. The Civil Aviation authority asked to have 30 percent of flights canceled at Orly, Paris' second airport, and 20 percent in Marseille.

Trade union confederation CGT warned that at least two oil refineries might be shut down starting Monday. Industry Minister Roland Lescure said the government could requisition personnel -- order workers back to their posts -- to avoid fuel shortages.

Macron has argued that requiring people in France to work two more years is needed to invigorate the country's economy and to prevent its pension system from falling into a deficit as the population ages.

Laurent Berger, head of the moderate CFDT union, said the retirement reform "must be withdrawn."

"We condemn violence. ... But look at the anger. It's very strong, even among our ranks," he said on RMC radio.

photo Demonstrators rolls a wooden cable spool to a burning barricade during a protest in Paris, Friday, March 17, 2023. Protests against French President Emmanuel Macron's decision to force a bill raising the retirement age from 62 to 64 through parliament without a vote disrupted traffic, garbage collection and university campuses in Paris as opponents of the change maintained their resolve to get the government to back down. (AP Photo/Lewis Joly)
photo Demonstrator stand in the tear gas during a protest in Paris, Friday, March 17, 2023. Protests against French President Emmanuel Macron's decision to force a bill raising the retirement age from 62 to 64 through parliament without a vote disrupted traffic, garbage collection and university campuses in Paris as opponents of the change maintained their resolve to get the government to back down. (AP Photo/Lewis Joly)
photo Demonstrators gather next to a burning barricade as they stage next to the National Assembly during a protest in Paris, Friday, March 17, 2023. Protests against French President Emmanuel Macron's decision to force a bill raising the retirement age from 62 to 64 through parliament without a vote disrupted traffic, garbage collection and university campuses in Paris as opponents of the change maintained their resolve to get the government to back down. (AP Photo/Lewis Joly)
photo Police officers stand in the tear gas during a protest in Paris, Friday, March 17, 2023. Protests against French President Emmanuel Macron's decision to force a bill raising the retirement age from 62 to 64 through parliament without a vote disrupted traffic, garbage collection and university campuses in Paris as opponents of the change maintained their resolve to get the government to back down. (AP Photo/Lewis Joly)
photo Protesters dance during a protest in Paris, Saturday, March 18, 2023. A spattering of protests were planned to continue in France over the weekend against President Macron's controversial pension reform, as garbage continued to reek in the streets of Paris and beyond owing to continuing action by refuse collectors. (AP Photo/Lewis Joly)
photo A protester holds a placard with the face of Macron reading 'They have to come for me' during a protest in Paris, Saturday, March 18, 2023. A spattering of protests were planned to continue in France over the weekend against President Macron's controversial pension reform, as garbage continued to reek in the streets of Paris and beyond owing to continuing action by refuse collectors. (AP Photo/Lewis Joly)
photo A protester hold a banner during a protest in Paris, Saturday, March 18, 2023. A spattering of protests were planned to continue in France over the weekend against President Macron's controversial pension reform, as garbage continued to reek in the streets of Paris and beyond owing to continuing action by refuse collectors. (AP Photo/Lewis Joly)
photo Protesters dance during a protest in Paris, Saturday, March 18, 2023. A spattering of protests were planned to continue in France over the weekend against President Macron's controversial pension reform, as garbage continued to reek in the streets of Paris and beyond owing to continuing action by refuse collectors. (AP Photo/Lewis Joly)
photo A protester holds a placard depicting a coffin that reads: ''Their pension plan: subway, work, three doses, sleep'' during a protest in Paris, Saturday, March 18, 2023. A spattering of protests were planned to continue in France over the weekend against President Macron's controversial pension reform, as garbage continued to reek in the streets of Paris and beyond owing to continuing action by refuse collectors. (AP Photo/Lewis Joly)

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