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France 24
France 24

French police fire teargas as clashes erupt at May Day pension protests

Protesters arrive at Place de la Nation in Paris on May 1, 2023, in Paris. © Thibault Camus, AP

Police fired teargas in Paris and other cities as protesters turned out for May Day rallies across France on Monday amid anger over the passage of President Emmanuel Macron’s unpopular pension reform. Interior ministry figures estimated the number of protesters at 782,000 nationwide; unions put the number much higher, at 2.3 million. Read our live blog to see how all the day's events unfolded. All times are Paris time (GMT+2).

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  • France saw another round of nationwide protests on May 1, with police firing teargas in Paris and other cities despite Macron's attempts to turn the page on the debate over pension reform. 
  • According to interior ministry figures, 291 people have been detained and at least 108 police officers injured.
  • Macron insists the proposed changes, which include raising the retirement age from 62 to 64, were needed to reform a moribund system. But some of the government’s own experts have said the pension system is in relatively good shape and would likely return to a balanced budget even without reforms.
  • Public anger over the proposed changes was compounded after the government used Article 49.3 – known as the "nuclear option" – to push the reform through parliament without a vote in March.  
  • While May 1 is marked around the world as a celebration of labour rights, this year's rallies tapped into broader frustrations as populations squeezed by inflation and demanding economic justice took to the streets across Europe and Asia. 
  • French police have been approved to use drones equipped with cameras for crowd monitoring at the protests. Rights groups filed a complaint against the move, saying the use of drones in this manner violates fundamental rights.

7:04pm: Protesters present 'united front' and renewed 'motivation' on May Day

Reporting from the streets of Paris where protests have taken place, FFRANCE 24 correspondent Liza Kaminov described the protests as "historic", adding that the turnout is much higher than that of May 1 last year. 

Protesters showed a "united front" and renewed "motivation" in their fight against Macron's deeply unpopular pension reform, she said.

Please click on the video player below to watch the report:

© france24

6:08pm: An estimated 782,000 protesters in France according to the interior ministry

An estimated 782,000 people took part in protests across France on Monday, according to figures published by the interior ministry. Figures from the Paris police department showed an estimated 112,000 protesters for Paris alone. 

Estimates from France's CGT union put participation figures much higher, at 500,000 in Paris and 2.3 million nationwide.

5:56pm: More than 60 protesters arrested in France, at least one policeman seriously injured

Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin on Monday said more than 60 people have been arrested (tweet below) amid violent protests in France. One police officer is seriously injured after a molotov cocktail was thrown at him. 

5:29pm: Macron thanks French workers with no mention of protests

President Emmanuel Macron on Monday thanked French workers for their contributions to the nation via Twitter (below).

"You get up early to feed us. You promote the know-how of our territories. You contribute to our sovereignty. On this May 1st, to all workers, thank you." he said in a tweet.

He did not, however, mention the ongoing protests across the country.


5:11pm: Journalists caught in police violence amid Paris protests

Journalists have been caught up in clashes between police forces and protesters. A tweet shows journalist Rémy Buisine from French media outlet Brut on the ground after being hit by teargas.

Another journalist is shown in a tweet with a broken helmet after suffering a blow.

4:58pm: French labour union CGT estimates 500,000 protesters in Paris

France's left-leaning CGT union estimated 500,000 people turned out in Paris for the May Day protests. Other French cities are also expected to see large numbers of people turning out to protest against the government's deeply unpopular pension reform.  

3:42pm: Protesters burn effigies of Macron and his government

Protesters in France made mocking effigies of President Macron and Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin as part of the nationwide protests at the pension reform bill that has been forced through parliament.

An effigy of Macron burns in the eastern city of Strasbourg, where the fury at Macron's reforms was palpable at this year's May Day protest. 


3:26pm: 'Trade unions are marching, banging pots and pans'

Reporting from the protests in Paris, FRANCE 24 correspondent Liza Kaminov says trade unions have been working to rally members and the public at large to ensure that this year's “May 1 goes down in the country’s history”. Currently, an estimated turnout of “500,000 to 1 million people” is expected across the country.

Violence broke out early on during the protests in Paris with flares and crackers being set off.

3:22pm: Growing violence at May Day protests

May Day protests are heating up in France as "Black Bloc" anarchists threw projectiles at the police shortly after people started marching through the city of Lyon.

Police forces responded by launching teargas at protesters in central Lyon. The police have also fired teargas in Paris and in the western city of Nantes.

12:48pm: Court allows Paris police to use drones

Paris’s administrative court on Monday upheld a police decree allowing authorities to use drones during May Day protests in the French capital.

The move came after NGOs and lawyers’ unions had appealed to invalidate the police order, arguing such drone use violated fundamental rights.

9:35am: Unions keen to show they are not giving up

Macron bypassed parliament in March to get his contentious pension reform on the statute books – transforming a political tussle into a full-blown crisis, as symbolised by furious protesters burning piles of uncollected rubbish on the streets of Paris.

Since France’s Constitutional Court upheld the bill in April, Macron has tried to turn the page on the national discontent, with a series of walkabouts across France’s regions. But he has been met by boos and the sound of banging pots and pans from protesters still up in arms at Macron raising the pension age from 62 to 64.

Now unions are keen to show that they are not giving up the fight.

“I think we’ll see hundreds of thousands of demonstrators, perhaps 1 million or 1.5 million, Laurent Berger, the head of France’s largest and most moderate major union the CFDT, said on Sunday.

French authorities expect 500,000 to 650,000 across the country – including 80,000 to 100,000 in Paris.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and Reuters)

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