PARIS - As teargas and smoke wafted through the streets of central Paris and riot police clashed with protesters, many demonstrators felt President Emmanuel Macron only had himself to blame for the seething public anger over his pension reform.
Among the crowd of tens of thousands of mostly young people, protesters said Macron's defiance and abrasive ruling style had motivated them to hit the streets.
Chief among the complaints was his decision last Thursday to ram the pensions legislation through parliament without a vote after it emerged that his minority government did not have enough support among MPs.
The move was legal -- it is possible under article 49.3 of the constitution -- but has been decried by critics as an abuse of executive power.
"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. "And I think that is more of a source of anger now than the substance."
Opinion polls also show that around two-thirds of French people are against the reform.
Others felt Macron had been provocative in a television interview on Wednesday when he questioned French people's attitude to work and pledged to implement the pension changes by the end of the year.
"I was wondering whether to come and whether all this was worth it," Solange Le Nuz, a 28-year-old engineer, who had taken the afternoon off to attend the protests, told AFP.
"That's what made my mind up," she said, referring to the president's TV interview. "I found him very authoritarian. He doesn't listen."
A poll carried out after Macron's interview by the Odoxa group found that 76 percent of respondents were not convinced by the president, and 83 percent thought unrest and protests would worsen in coming days.
A total of 70 percent felt the government was to blame for nightly clashes around the country since last Thursday, as well as wildcat protests that have seen roads, railways stations and ports blocked.
- 'Hope he realises' -
The crowd in Paris marched from Place de la Bastille, a memorial to revolutionary France, to the city's historic opera house in the centre of the capital.
Though peaceful to begin with, police repeatedly clashed with violent protesters from around 5pm (1600 GMT), firing teargas and carrying out baton charges on the Grands Boulevards thoroughfare and near the opera house.
Similar scenes were reported in other cities around the country, including Rennes, Nantes and Bordeaux.
Although Thursday was the ninth round of union-organised protests since January, school assistant Clementine Lebeigle, 24, said she had decided to join in for the first time.
"They went against the people in the Assembly. They didn't have the votes," she said as she waited to join the march in Paris.
"I find it outrageous that they did that while knowing that people were demonstrating. It's abusive. He's not listening to us," she told AFP, referring to Macron.
Alice Jupil-Le Bras, also 24 and a student, called the use of article 49.3 a "disgrace for the government. It's an assault on the population."
Macron has justified the move, saying the constitutional measure had been used 100 times previously in modern French history.
Under the terms of the article, the government faces a no-confidence motion afterwards -- which Macron's government survived on Monday by nine votes.
As the country faces another cycle of violence, just four years after the so-called "Yellow Vest" movement against Macron shook the country, few people could see how it would end.
Many hoped Macron might still withdraw the reform, which is intended to be a flagship policy of his second term in office.
He has defended it as essential to reduce budget deficits forecast for the years ahead.
"I hope he reverses the 49.3. I don't think he will, but I hope so," said Lebeigle. "I hope he realises. It's crazy how many people are in the street."