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France hit by strikes and protests in second round of pensions battle

Deserted platforms at Montparnasse railway station (Michel Euler/AP)
Associated Press Reporters

Demonstrations were under way across France on Tuesday in the latest clash of wills with the government over its plans to raise the retirement age.

Labour leaders hoped to bring more than one million protesters into the streets in what one veteran left-wing leader described as a “citizens’ insurrection”.

The nationwide strikes and protests are a crucial test both for President Emmanuel Macron’s government and its opponents.

France Pension Protests
Demonstrators against planned pension reforms stage a protest march in Bayonne, south-western France (Robert Edme/AP)

The government says it is determined to push through Mr Macron’s election pledge to reform France’s pension system.

Trade unions and left-wing politicians fighting against the plans are counting on a massive turnout by protesters to strengthen their efforts to kill the retirement reform Bill.

Veteran left-wing leader Jean-Luc Melenchon predicted “a historic day” of protests and defeat for the president, as crowds of protesters began marching in cities and towns outside Paris ahead of a major demonstration planned in the French capital later on Tuesday.

“It’s not often that we see such a mass mobilisation,” said Mr Melenchon, speaking in the southern city of Marseille. “It’s a form of citizens’ insurrection.”

A first round of strikes and protests brought out between one million and two million demonstrators earlier this month, including many tens of thousands in Paris.

France Pension Protests
French labour leaders were hoping to bring more than one million demonstrators into the streets (Robert Edme/AP)

Labour leaders were aiming to at least match or even better those numbers on Tuesday, with around 250 demonstrations expected around the country.

The government mobilised 11,000 officers to police the protests.

Positions are hardening on both sides as politicians begin locking horns in parliament over the government’s Bill, which would raise the retirement age from 62 to 64.

On Monday, Mr Macron described the reform as “essential”.

His prime minister, Elisabeth Borne, insisted at the weekend that raising the retirement age to 64 is “no longer negotiable”.

Strikes and protesters intend to prove otherwise.

France Pension Protests
Deserted platforms at Montparnasse railway station (Michel Euler/AP)

Rail operator SNCF warned of major network disruptions on Tuesday because of strikes.

It recommended that passengers cancel or postpone trips and work from home if possible.

Strikes also hit some schools and other sectors.

Radio station France Inter played music instead of its usual morning talk shows and apologised to its listeners because employees were striking.