France protests: Tear gas fired at activists as electricity gets cut to thousands of homes

Tensions rise as the nationwide strikes have brought France to a standstill

Kate Ng
Tuesday 17 December 2019 17:31
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Protesters clash with police during a protest in Rennes, western France
Protesters clash with police during a protest in Rennes, western France

France was brought to standstill for the thirteenth day over president Emmanuel Macron planned pension reform, as police fired tear gas at trade union protesters and electricity to nearly 100,000 homes was cut.

Eiffel Tower staff walked off the job, leaving the monument closed to the public, and Paris opera workers joined in Tuesday's nationwide protests across the country.

Despite 13 days of crippling train and subway strikes, Mr Macron and his government stayed firm. The prime minister declared his "total" determination to reshape a pension system that unions celebrate as a model for the rest of the world but that he calls unfair and destined to collapse into debt.

French police fired tear gas at demonstrators in central Paris and projectiles were thrown at police lines.

The pension reform would see people working until the age of 64 instead of the average retirement age now of 62

The current system is divided into dozens of separate schemes which puts French workers on the receiving end of one of the world’s most generous state pensions.

Mr Macron’s government wants to streamline it into a “points” system they say will be more transparent and treat contributions from all workers equally.

But unions are opposed to the new reforms and say it will leave people working longer for less money.

Eight of 14 metro lines in Paris were closed and most suburban commuter trains were cancelled. The state railway operator, SNCF, urged travellers not to show up at stations hoping to travel.

Alain Krakovitch, head of SNCF in Paris, told local reporters: “Passengers are tired, our employees who aren’t striking are tired.

“My responsibility is to spread the word to avoid putting passengers in an unsafe situation.”

French unionists demonstrate against unemplyoment and precariousness

According to The Local France, 20 per cent of flights in Paris Orly airport were cancelled, with other airports advising passengers to check with their airlines on their scheduled flights.

In addition to transportation troubles, parents faced shuttered schools and students had key exams cancelled Tuesday as teachers joined in the strike.

Opposition towards the pension reform have been exacerbated by the departure of government pension reform tsar Jean-Paul Delevoye.

Mr Delevoye resigned on Monday over his failure to declare private sector payments while working for the government.

Philippe Martinez, head of France’s CGT union, said: “When all the unions say ‘We do not want this reform’", the government should have a rethink.

“They need to open their eyes and unblock their ears.”

The number of people who have turned out to demonstrate was waning in recent days, but Tuesday saw a fresh wave of protesters after unions called for mobilisation to regain momentum.

Both the unions and Mr Macron are hoping to get the other to back down before Christmas, with the prospect that strikes over the holiday period would alienate an increasingly frustrated public.

Additional reporting by agencies

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