Calm descends across France after protesters clash with police

Protesters were still out in force on Saturday in relatively peaceful demonstrations

A relative calm descended across France on Saturday after protesters clashed with police over French President Emmanuel Macron's controversial pension reforms.

French officials saw a smattering of protests this weekend compared with the past two nights, which saw thousands-strong crowds emerge on the streets of Paris.

Largely non-violent protests were held in various cities, including Nantes and Marseille, where protesters got past police to occupy the main train station for around 15 minutes.

Several thousand protesters gathered on Saturday evening at a public square in southern Paris, the Place d'Italie, where some people set bins on fire.

Meanwhile, uncollected rubbish continued to reek in the streets of the French capital amid a strike by sanitation workers.

The scene at protests in Paris on Friday. Credit: AP

Police in the French capital used tear gas and water cannons over the past two nights to disperse protesters, who were voicing their disapproval at President Macron's decision to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64.

French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said police have arrested hundreds of protesters across the country in the last week.

President Macron is trying to pass the legislation without a vote in the country's National Assembly, via an article in the French constitution which permits him to legally do so.

He has argued that the proposed pension changes are needed to make the French economy more competitive and to keep the pension system from diving into deficit. The reforms have been made the key priority of his second term in office.

France, like many richer nations, faces lower birth rates and longer life expectancy.

The atmosphere on the streets of Paris has turned eerily calm after a night of violent clashes, as Chloe Keedy reports

Opposition parties, including the far-right National Rally, have filed separate no-confidence motions in the current government, which are expected to be voted on early next week.

If the motion passes, which requires approval from more than half of the Assembly, it would be a first since 1962 and force the government to resign.

Meanwhile, leaders of the influential leftist CGT union have called on people to leave schools, factories, refineries and other work places to force the government to withdraw the pension reform bill, which is not yet a law.

More strikes are planned for Monday in numerous sectors, from transportation to energy.

Trade union confederation CGT warned that at least two oil refineries might be shut down from Monday, while Industry Minister Roland Lescure said the government could order workers back to their posts to avoid fuel shortages.