Protesters clash with police in France as anger continues over pension reforms

Protests have flared up once again in France, as Cari Davies reports

France has been hit with more strike action amid fresh protests against President Emmanuel Macron's pensions reforms, while the French leader is away on a three-day visit to China.

Protesters disrupted vehicle traffic at Paris' main airport and police fired clouds of tear gas in other French cities as people marched as part of nationwide demonstrations.

The crowds are demanding Macron scraps pension reforms that have ignited a month-long firestorm of public anger.

Talks between trade union leaders and Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne broke down on Wednesday, setting the stage for the protesters to return to the streets.

Demonstrators clash with police forces during a protest in Nantes, western France. Credit: AP

The Interior Ministry deployed some 11,500 police officers nationwide on Thursday, including 4,200 in Paris, to try to avert more of the clashes and moments of vandalism that have marred previous protests.

Largely peaceful crowds marched behind unions’ coloured flags and banners in Marseille on the Mediterranean coast, Bordeaux in the southwest, Lyon in the southeast and other cities, including Paris.

At Paris' Charles de Gaulle airport, about 100 demonstrators blocked a road leading to Terminal 1 on Thursday morning and entered the terminal building, the airport operator said.

It said flights were unaffected, but travelers towing their luggage had to weave their way past flag-waving protesters.

In Lyon, police fired tear gas, which has become the norm for many protests in France, to disperse a crowd outside a Nespresso coffee store that was being looted.

In Paris, rat catchers hurled rodent cadavers at City Hall on Wednesday in one of the more memorable illustrations of how Macron's plans to raise the national retirement age from 62 to 64 have stoked workers' fury.

Broadcaster BFMTV showed rodent corpses being tossed by workers in white protective suits.

Natacha Pommet, a leader of the public services branch of the CGT trade union, told reporters on Thursday that Paris' rat catchers wanted “to show the hard reality of their mission”.

Dozens of trade unionists briefly invaded the Paris office of US investment firm BlackRock, chanting slogans and setting off firecrackers. Credit: AP

She added that opposition to Macron's pension reforms is morphing into a wider movement of worker grievances over salaries and other complaints.

“All this anger brings together all types of anger,” she said in a phone interview.

But the number of strikers has fallen, particularly in the transport sector, since the beginning of the movement in January.

The Paris Metro was operating a near-normal service on Thursday, in a stark contrast to previous days of action, which was seen by some as a sign the movement is beginning to weaken.

Protester runs though tear gas in Nantes, western France. Credit: AP

Meanwhile, less than 8% of teachers were on strike, according to the Education Ministry.

However, the sizeable TotalEnergies oil refinery in Gonfreville-l’Orcher remained closed.

Khadija Philip, a protester in Paris, disagreed that there is a drop in momentum and said: “We won’t give up as long as they haven’t taken the time to hear us and reconsider their decision.”

Union representative Sylvain Challan Belval said that Macron’s government is simply playing for time hoping that the protest movement “will blow itself out.”

Ten previous rounds of nationwide strikes and protests since January have failed to get Macron to change course.

There was no sign from his government that Thursday's 11th round of upheaval would make it back down.

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