Bordeaux city hall set on fire as one million join anti-Macron protests across France

Protesters cheer as a part of the historic building goes up in flames

Shweta Sharma
Friday 24 March 2023 07:39 GMT
Bordeaux town hall set on fire in French pension reform protests

The historic Bordeaux City Hall in France has been set on fire on the day of the biggest protest yet against Emmanuel Macron’s controversial attempts to push through reforms to raise the pension age.

Protesters gathered outside the Palais Rohan cheered as a part of the building went up in flames, one of a number of incidents of vandalism and violence across the country on Thursday evening after a day of largely peaceful strike action.

The largescale protests threaten the prospect of King Charles III’s visit to France – the British monarch’s trip next week was to be his first abroad after becoming king.

Thursday’s strike was the first day of national walkouts since Mr Macron pushed through a bill with his pension reforms, and upwards of one million people are reported to have taken part in protests and marches across France.

Building on the strong turnout on Thursday, unions have called for fresh protests this Tuesday, which would be the second day of the British monarch’s visit, when he is scheduled to visit Bordeaux.

Videos circulating widely on social media showed huge flames engulfing the city hall’s heavy wooden front doors.

Construction of the city hall was completed by 1784, just years before the French Revolution. The building is a prominent example of French baroque architecture during the 18th century.

The city hall is just one of the instances where the anger of ordinary protesters has been on stark display.

The biggest day of the strike in France has seen the participation of a million people, with 119,000 people marching through Paris on Thursday, according to data from the country’s Interior Ministry.

The General Confederation of Labour, however, claimed the number to be much higher, at 800,000.

Around 80 people were arrested by police and 123 police personnel and gendarmes were injured amid widespread violence and rioting, French interior minister Gérald Darmanin said on Thursday evening.

He said 12,000 security forces had been deployed on Thursday, with 5,000 of these stationed in Paris.

The nationwide protests are the ninth round of union-organised demonstrations that have taken place since January, over pension reforms, which the government chose to push through without a parliamentary vote, making it the biggest domestic crisis for president Emmanuel Macron during his second term in office.

Protests are raging against Mr Macron’s bill that seeks to increase the retirement age from 62 to 64, something the embattled president claims is necessary to keep the system afloat.

The streets of Paris saw pitched battles between the police and black-clad, masked groups that attacked at least two fast food restaurants, a supermarket and a bank.

Protesters pelted Molotov cocktails, objects and fireworks at police, who charged at them multiple times and used tearas to break protests.

Videos showed teargas fumes covering part of the Place de l’Opera, where demonstrators converged.

One of the shocking images emerging from the protest showed an unconscious police officer in Paris being dragged to safety after he and other officers came under fire from fireworks and other missiles. He was reportedly hit on the head.

French police officers protect a colleague injured during clashes with protesters (EPA)

A graphic image from the northern city of Rouen showed a young woman who was seriously injured on her hand lying on the ground and witnesses said she lost her thump after being hit by a "flash-ball" grenade fired by police.

Visiting police headquarters as fires still burned in some Paris neighbourhoods, Mr Darmanin said security posed “no problem” to the British monarch’s visit and he will be “welcomed and welcomed well”.

He said there was “enormous degrading” of public buildings and commerce on Thursday, “far more important than in precedent demonstrations”.

“There are troublemakers, often extreme left, who want to take down the state and kill police and ultimately take over the institutions,” the minister said.

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