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Jurgen HECKER with AFP bureaus

France faces new strike turmoil as Macron remains defiant

French unions have called another day of strikes and protests on Tuesday. ©AFP

Paris (AFP) - France faced another day of strikes and protests on Tuesday with a record number of police deployed as President Emmanuel Macron remained defiant over a pensions reform that is sparking turmoil in the country.

The day of action is the tenth such mobilisation since protests started in mid-January against the law, which includes raising the retirement age from 62 to 64.

Last Thursday saw the most violent clashes yet between protesters and security forces as tensions erupted into pitched battles on the streets of Paris and police reported 457 arrests across France and injuries to 441 police officers.

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said 13,000 members of the security forces -- including 5,500 in Paris alone -- would be deployed on Tuesday.The number, a record, was justified by "a major risk to public order", he said Monday.

Nearly two weeks after Macron rammed the new pensions law through parliament using a special provision sidestepping a vote in the lower house, unions have vowed no let-up in mass protests to get the government to back down.

A state visit to France by Britain's King Charles III, which had been due to begin on Sunday, was postponed because of the unrest.

Macron on Monday instead met Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne, other cabinet ministers and senior lawmakers for crisis talks at the Elysee Palace, the presidency said. 

"We need to continue to hold out a hand to the unions," a participant in the meeting quoted Macron as saying.

In a conciliatory gesture, Borne has scheduled talks over three weeks with members of parliament, political parties, local authorities and unions.

Borne is expected to offer unions new measures designed to ease the impact of the pensions law targeting physically demanding jobs, conditions for older workers and retraining.

But early reactions were not promising for the prime minister.

'Cooling off'

Laurent Berger, the head of the moderate CFDT union, said he would accept the offer of talks but only if the reform was first "put to one side".

On Tuesday, he also called for the appointment of a mediator between unions and the government saying this would be "a gesture in favour of cooling off, and finding a way out".

Hard-left CGT union leader Philippe Martinez said: "The aim is the withdrawal" of the pensions law.

But government spokesman Olivier Veran said the law was no longer up for discussion.

"It's in the past now," he said.

The protest movement against the pension reform has turned into the biggest domestic crisis of Macron's second mandate.

A police source said that up to 900,000 people were expected to protest nationwide Tuesday, including 100,000 in Paris, with young people expected to be prominent.

'Not going to make it'

"I agree with the protesters," said Yasmine Mounib, a 19-year old student in Lille, northern France.

"But they should keep some trains running for students.This is costing me my education," she said, adding that she was going to miss her 8 am (0600 GMT) class although she got up at 4.

Carole Guibert, a highschool teacher in Douai, also in northern France, was also worried.

"I told my pupils that I would teach my class, but I'm not going to make it," she said.

Protesters in Nantes, western France, blocked access roads to the city, creating 45 kilometres (30 miles) of congestion early Tuesday.

According to Paris mass transit operator RATP, metros and suburban trains would be "disrupted" during Tuesday's strike action.

Rubbish collectors in the capital are continuing their strike, with close to 8,000 tonnes of garbage piled up in the streets as of Sunday.

Adding to the blockage, workers at an incineration plant just outside Paris stopped work on Monday. 

About 15 percent of service stations in France are short of petrol because of refinery strikes.

The Louvre in Paris, the world's most visited museum, was closed on Monday after workers blocked entry to the attraction.

The French action comes a day after a major strike brought much of Germany's air traffic, rail service and commuter lines to a halt as workers demand wage hikes in the face of brisk inflation.

It also comes only days after protesters and police engaged in major clashes at a protest over water storage facilities in Sainte-Soline in southwestern France.

Two men injured in the protests were fighting for their lives in hospital, according to Darmanin.

Seven protesters were wounded in total as well as 29 members of the security forces.

French police have come under severe criticism for heavy-handed tactics and the IGPN, the internal affairs unit of the French police, has launched 17 investigations into incidents since the pensions protests began.

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