11 July 2024

Violent demonstrations against pension reform in France led to the postponement Friday of King Charles III’s trip to the country, highlighting the growing security and political problems faced by President Emmanuel Macron.

The choice of France for Charles’ first foreign visit as sovereign had been intended to highlight warming Franco-British relations, but it has become a high-profile victim of the protests engulfing the country.

Macron asked the British government for the postponement, a UK government spokesperson said in a statement.

The decision was made “in order to be able to welcome His Majesty King Charles III in conditions which reflect our friendly relations”, a statement from the French presidency said.

More than 450 people were arrested on Thursday and 441 members of the security forces were injured during the most violent day of protests since the start of the year against Macron’s bid to raise the retirement age to 64, according to interior ministry figures.

More than 900 fires were also lit around Paris, with radical anarchist groups blamed for setting uncollected rubbish ablaze and smashing shop windows, leading to frequent clashes with riot police.

In southwestern Bordeaux, protesters set fire to the ancient wooden entrance to city hall, briefly raising fears for the whole building until firefighters arrived to extinguish it.

Charles III had been set to visit the building on Tuesday after a day in Paris on Monday when he was scheduled to address the Senate and attend a state banquet at the Palace of Versailles.

“State visits are a time for celebration and this was not the moment,” a former British ambassador to France, Peter Ricketts, wrote on Twitter.

The second leg of Charles’ European tour — to Germany — is expected to proceed as scheduled on Wednesday.

– Over a million –

More than a million people marched in France on Thursday, with the protest movement reinvigorated by Macron’s tactics and statements over the last week.

Another day of protests was announced for next Tuesday, which would have coincided with Charles III’s trip.

Uproar over the legislation to change the retirement age — which Macron pushed through parliament without a vote last week — has created another huge domestic crisis for the president just 10 months into his second term in office.

But Darmanin, a hardliner in Macron’s centrist government, dismissed calls from political opponents and protesters to withdraw the bid to raise the retirement age to 64 from 62.

“I don’t think we should withdraw this law because of violence,” he said.

Macron’s decision to force the legislation through parliament and his refusal to back down in a television interview on Wednesday appeared to have energised many opponents on Thursday.

“There’s the substance — the reform of the pension system — and then there’s the other issue of how democracy functions,” 21-year-old student Judicael Juge told AFP during the protests.

“I think that is more of a source of anger now than the substance.”

– Trash –

Commentators are questioning how the crisis will end, just four years after the “Yellow Vest” anti-government demonstrations rocked the country.

“No one knows where the way out lies. There’s not an easy one,” political scientist Bastien Francois from the Sorbonne University in Paris told AFP.

“Everything depends on one man who is a prisoner of the political situation.”

The leader of the moderate CFDT union, Laurent Berger, said Friday that he had spoken to an aide to the president and suggested a pause on implementing the pensions law for six months.

“It’s the moment to say ‘listen, let’s put things on pause, let’s wait six months’,” Berger told RTL radio. “It would calm things down.”

Rubbish is still gathering in the streets of Paris due to a rolling strike by garbage collectors, while blockades of oil refineries by striking workers are beginning to create fuel shortages around the country.

The ministry of energy transition on Thursday warned that kerosene supply to the capital and its airports was becoming “critical”.

More flights were cancelled this weekend at airports around the country due to a strike by air traffic controllers.

Some 1.089 million people demonstrated across France on Thursday, the interior ministry said, putting Paris turnout at 119,000, the highest for the capital since January.

Unions claimed a record 3.5 million people had protested across France, and 800,000 in the capital.

Clashes between police and protesters also took place in the cities of Lille, Nantes, Rennes and Toulouse.

by AFP