The French Are Really Mad

City Hall set ablaze in Bordeaux, cops clash with protesters in Paris over changes to pension system
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 24, 2023 6:33 AM CDT

Last week, French President Emmanuel Macron bypassed Parliament and raised the age of retirement from 62 to 64, an unpopular move that left citizens "seething." Anger over the proposal has been bubbling up into strikes and protests since January, but the mostly peaceful demonstrations have also made way for some recent violent outliers, including in Bordeaux and Paris. The BBC reports that in the southwest city of Bordeaux on Thursday, protesters set the front door of City Hall ablaze, which firefighters quickly extinguished. It's not clear who was directly responsible for the fire.

In the capital, meanwhile, protests stayed mostly peaceful, but some masked demonstrators in black made their way through the streets smashing store windows, destroying outdoor furniture and bus shelters, and ransacking a McDonald's, reports Reuters. Police tried to disperse the crowds with tear gas, while protesters hurled random objects and fireworks at them. Other cities—including Nantes, Lorient, and Rouen, where one woman reportedly lost her thumb after police fired a "flash ball" grenade into the crowds—also saw clashes.

Popular tourist attractions like the Eiffel Tower and Versailles were shuttered on Thursday, as were schools and colleges across the nation, and teachers as well as workers at Paris' Charles de Gaulle airport walked off the job. The French government says more than a million people took to the streets across the country on Thursday, though unions say that figure was closer to 3.5 million, per the Guardian. According to Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin, close to 150 cops have been injured, and hundreds of people are said to have been arrested.

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"Demonstrating and voicing disagreements is a right," tweeted French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne on Thursday. "The violence and degradation we have witnessed today is unacceptable." The protests' effects are now even spreading beyond the country's borders: On Friday, Macron's office announced that a visit from the UK's King Charles III has been postponed due to the ongoing strife, reports the AP. The monarch had been set to make a stop in France on Sunday before heading to Germany on Wednesday. Opinion polls in France show the majority of citizens oppose changes to the pension legislation; Macron says they're necessary to keep the system going. (More France stories.)

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