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Paris streets calm after pension reform protests as rubbish piles up

Protesters in Paris on Friday (Lewis Joly/AP)
Associated Press

Protests were planned to continue in France over the weekend against President Emmanuel Macron’s controversial pension reform, as rubbish continued to reek in the streets of Paris and beyond owing to continuing action by refuse collectors.

An eerie calm returned to Paris on Saturday after two nights of thousands-strong protests across the French capital, with one flash point at the elegant Place de la Concorde where angry protesters threw an effigy of Macron into a bonfire to cheers from the crowd on Friday night.

Police dispersed crowds with tear gas and water cannons and there were hundreds of arrests.

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

Further protests were planned on Saturday in Paris as well as in Marseille and Nantes, but they were expected to be smaller than in previous days.

In Paris’ 12th district on Saturday rubbish piled up just feet away from a bakery, wafting fumes encouraged by the mild weather and sunshine.

France Pension Tensions
Rubbish has been piling up in Paris (Lewis Joly/AP)

Some Parisian residents buying their weekend baguette blamed Macron’s administration.

“The government should change its position and listen to the people because what is happening is extremely serious.

“And we are seeing a radicalisation,” said Isabelle Vergriette, 64, a psychologist. “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 neighbourhood about the consequences of the refuse pile-up, which has become a visual and olfactory symbol of the anti-pension action.

France Pension Tensions
Protesters in Paris on Friday (Lewis Joly/AP)

“Food waste is our priority because it is what brings pests to the surface,” said Pierre-Marie.

“We are extremely sensitive to the situation. As soon as we have a rubbish lorry available, we give priority to the places most concerned, like food markets.”

Strikes in numerous sectors, from transport to energy, are planned for Monday. The Civil Aviation authority asked that 30% of flights be cancelled at Orly, Paris’ second airport, and 20% in Marseille.

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.

On Friday, one day 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 to be voted on Monday.

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