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Radio France Internationale
Radio France Internationale
Amanda Morrow

French police fire tear gas as May Day rallies turn violent

May Day protesters hit with tear gas fired by police in Paris on 1 May, 2023. © RFI

France was gripped by widespread May Day protests on Monday as unions joined forces to call for “tidal wave” street marches to force the government to repeal an unpopular pensions law that was rammed through parliament by decree.

Police fired teargas at protesters in Nantes, Lyon, Rennes and Paris – where an officer was injured after being struck in the face by a Molotov cocktail that was reportedly thrown by a masked black bloc anarchist on the sidelines of the march.

By 4pm more than 40 arrests had been made in the capital.

Two police officers were injured in Toulouse, where security forces were hit by cobblestones, and banks and storefronts were vandalised.

Across the country hundreds of thousands of people across vented their anger at President Emmanuel Macron’s move to raise the retirement age to 64, waving banners and banging on saucepans as they marched through cities and towns.

Some 12,000 police were deployed to ensure the security of 300 protests, with union leaders calling on police prefects to avoid engaging in “provocation”.

Seven arrests were made in Lyon, where authorities said up to a thousand black blocs had infiltrated the protest.

In Strasbourg protesters burned an effigy of Macron wearing a crown, which was filmed and shared on social media. In a Twitter post, police authorities said they condemned "the targeting of the President of the republic with the greatest firmness".

Unions united

The last time France’s eight main unions staged united May Day parades was back to 2009 during the financial crisis, when 1.2 million people protested.

Dozens of foreign trade union representatives from countries including Korea, Turkey, Colombian and Spain marched in Paris alongside French inter-union officials.

The CGT union said turnout amounted to 2.3 million people across the country on Monday, with some 550,000 people in Paris, 100,000 in Toulouse and 130,000 in Marseille. But police estimated only 13,500 and 11,000 in Toulouse and Marseille respectively.

CGT's new leader Sophie Binet told the press that "this day of demonstrations serves to show the government that opponents of the reform "will not move on until [the text] is not withdrawn".

​​​​Meanwhile, courts in Paris, Bordeaux and Lyon rejected appeals to stop the use of police surveillance drones, saying they were needed to maintain public order and did not pose a threat to individual freedoms.

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