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France 24

More than 149 police injured, 172 people arrested in French pension protests

French riot police run past a fire during a demonstration in Paris on March 23, 2023. © Alain Jocard, AFP

Hundreds of thousands of French workers on Thursday rallied in a new show of rage against President Emmanuel Macron's pension reform, with protests turning violent in Paris and other cities in a battle that shows no sign of abating. More than 149 police and gendarmes were injured and 172 people arrested, French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin said Thursday evening. Read our live blog to see how all the day's events unfolded. All times are Paris time [GMT+1].

10:22pm: French interior minister Darmanin slams violence from 'far-left thugs' 

French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin on Thursday slammed what he called violence from "thugs" on the "far left" that broke out on the sidelines of protests against pension reform.

He said that "1,500 rioters" had attended the Paris rallies to "break cops and public buildings". 

To date, he said that 172 people had been arrested in France, including 77 in Paris, some of them for "attacks on persons in charge of public authority" or "fires", he added.

9:31pm: Violent protests ‘not what unions wanted’, but blame may fall on government

Calls by union leaders for non-violent protests to keep public opinion onside were ignored by a number of demonstrators throughout France who clashed with police and lit fires in major cities.

“Images of tear gas, violence and fires was not what the unions wanted,” said FRANCE 24’s Marc Perelman, “but, that being said, according to a poll that came out today … 70% of those asked are blaming the violence on the government.”

9:13pm: Violence at protests ‘unacceptable’ says Prime Minister Borne

France’s Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne has said that the violence and damage seen at protests on Thursday was "unacceptable".

She added that she was grateful to police and other emergency services.

9:01pm: Fire blazes at entrance to Bordeaux City Hall

Social media videos from local news outlet Rue 89 Bordeaux shows a fire blazing at the entrance to Bordeaux City Hall on Thursday night after a day of protests in the city, followed by firemen arriving to tackle the blaze.




8:44pm: Demonstrations continue in Paris as protesters set fire to newsstands, rubbish bins

The official protest march has ended in Paris but many unofficial demonstrations are continuing in the French capital with multiple blazes being reported in the streets around the Place de l'Opéra.

Shortly before 8pm fires were reported in the surrounding streets, often started in rubbish bins or newsstands. Police were charging remaining protesters, AFP reported.

Small groups of protesters were marching towards les Halles district, setting fire to garbage cans on their way, AFP said.


20:28: More than 120 police injured, 80 arrested, interior minister says

Some 123 police and gendarmes have been injured during protests on Thursday and 80 people have been arrested, says France's Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin.

8:24pm: Protesters 'even more defiant' after Macron TV interview

Reporting from protests in Paris on Thursday, FRANCE 24's Catherine Norris-Trent says violent scenes erupted from 4pm onwards amid a sense of defiance among demonstrators.



7:53pm: French unions call for new day of strikes on March 28 

French unions are calling for a new day of strikes and demonstrations on March 28. 

7:45pm: 'Paris, rise up,' protesters chant

A small group of demonstrators walk past terraces where customers are chanting "Paris, get up, rise up".

7:40pm: 'The real trash are in government,' say Paris protesters

FRANCE 24's Ben Dodman is with protesters at the Paris rally, where references and tributes to the rubbish collectors' strike abound.

Other placards play on Macron's "contempt" for the French people and compare him to Louis XIV.

7:20pm: Protesters continue to chant and rally amid the tear gas

7:06pm: CGT union says 3.5 million attended protests in France, authorities put figure at just over 1 million

Some 3.5 million people in France joined protesters against pension reforms on Thursday, according to the CGT union.

Authorities say that demonstrators at protests throughout France numbered just 1.08 million with 119,000 rallying in Paris.

The figure from the interior ministry makes Thursday’s protests the biggest in the French capital since strikes began in January. The second largest was on March 15, when 480,000 people took to the streets in Paris, according to the government.

The CGT union puts the attendance figure for March 15 protests in Paris at 480,000. 

7pm: 'The anger in France isn't showing signs of slowing down just yet'

Rubbish is continuing to pile up on the streets of the French capital and rubbish collectors anger “isn’t showing signs of slowing down just yet”.

FRANCE 24’s Catherine Norris-Trent reports from outside a waste incineration plant on the southern edge of Paris.

6:52pm: French authorities must avoid 'unneccessary force', Amnesty warns

Amnesty International has warned that the French authorities must avoid using ‘unneccessary force’ as violent clashes erupted between protesters and police around France on Thursday.


6:36pm: Students join strike action in schools and universities

Students blockaded dozens of lycées (high schools) and universities in France on Thursday in protest against planned pension reforms.

The Ministry of Education reported "148 incidents" in high schools in France, including 38 full blockades, 70 filter blockades, 14 attempted blockades and 26 other forms of disruption.

Student union L'Alternative said students in 80 schools and universities were taking part in strike action, with 60 blockaded or occupied.

>> ‘Live to work or work to live?’: Why France's youth are fighting Macron’s pension reform

6:22pm: 'We don't have any choice but to strike and block the economy until he surrenders'

French protesters restricted access to Paris's Charles de Gaulle airport on Thursday and workers blocked the train tracks at Paris's Gare de Lyon in a ninth day of mass strikes against Emmanuel Macron's controversial pension reform. FRANCE 24's Catherine Clifford reports on French workers' latest strike actions. 



5:52pm: In Paris, first-time protesters join crowds on ninth day of strikes 

Many protesters are taking to the streets for the first time, angered by Macron’s decision to ram the pension reform through using article 49.3, which allows the French government to pass a bill without a vote. 

FRANCE 24’s Ben Dodman has been talking to some of the protesters in Paris. 

One of these first-time protesters is Valérie.

"Before the pension reform, I had never demonstrated," she tells FRANCE 24’s Cyrielle Cabot, in Paris. “Today, I no longer believe at all that we will be able to stop the reform. But I'm here anyway, to make my anger heard.

“Even if we were against the reform, we had never demonstrated or gone on strike,” said Marie-Lou and Aurélien. “But after 49.3, we decided to come. There is nothing right about this [reform]: neither the way it’s being done or the what it contains!“

5:38pm: Clashes between protesters and security forces continue in Paris

Journalists are sharing videos of chaotic scenes along Grands Boulevards, one of Paris’s major avenues. Videos show protesters throwing fireworks and other projectiles into smoke-filled air, as authorities use shields and batons to push back against demonstrators.

5:26pm: Attendance at protest marches high in cities around France

Figures from unions and authorities suggest that turnout on Thursday for demonstrations against pension reforms has been among the highest since strikes began in January.

In Rouen, authorities said 14,800 protesters joined marches  a record since the beginning of the year  compared with 23,000, according to the CGT union.

Participation was also up sharply in Lyon (where 22,000-55,000 attended), Brest (where 20,000-40,000 attended) and Montpellier (where 18,000-40,000 attended), although numbers did not reach the same highs as on previous strike days, January 31 and March 7.

Differences in figures from unions and authorities are routine, yet especially large contrasts have been noted in some cities. In Nice, the CGT puts the number of demonstrators present on Thursday at 40,000 and the authorities just 5,200. In Marseille the prefecture counted 16,000 demonstrators, or seventeen times less than the 280,000 suggested by the CGT.

5:00pm: Union says 800,000 protesters have joined Paris march

The CGT union says 800,000 people have joined demonstrations in Paris on Thursday for the ninth day of national strikes against pension reform.

This is the largest attendance figure put forward by unions since protests began in January.

According to the union, the previous record for attendance in the capital was 700,000 demonstrators on March 7. Estimated attendance figures put forward by local authorities for the same day were significantly lower, at 81,000.

Authorities have not yet released an official estimation of how many protesters attended Thursday's march.

4:42pm: Violence erupts at front of Paris protest march 

Violence broke out at the head of the demonstration march against pension reform on Thursday in Paris, where several hundred protesters dressed in black broke windows and street furniture, AFP reported.

The violent protesters, known as black bloc, damaged convenience stores and a McDonald's fast-food restaurant while throwing cobblestones and other projectiles and chanting "Ah! Ah! Anticapitalist!".

The protesters also threw cobblestones and bottles at the police and set fire to garbage cans, AFP reported.

According to police, "about a thousand" black bloc protesters are present at the march, dressed in black and equipped with masks and goggles.

4:32pm: Violence in Brittany ‘cannot go unpunished’ interior minister says

French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin has said attacks and damage caused by protesters in Lorient, where a government building was set on fire, are “inacceptable” and “cannot go unpunished”.

4:17pm: Clashes reported between protesters and authorities in north-west 

Clashes broke out on Thursday between demonstrators and forces of order during pension reform protests in Nantes, Rennes and Lorient, AFP has reported.

In Nantes, demonstrators entered the administrative court ransacking the reception and breaking windows and doors, noted AFP. Firemen quickly put out a fire in a courtroom.

In Lorient protests were marked by unprecedented unrest, with the city police station and law enforcement officers targeted demonstrators. Protesters broke the windows of a local government building using projectiles and lit fires at the gate, before the police intervened to disperse the crowd, AFP reported.

In Rennes, authorities fired tear gas in response to projectiles and trash can fires, plunging the protest march into a thick cloud of acrid smoke, according to an AFP journalist.

3:44pm: 'We can still make things happen!'

"We can still make things happen," GCT union members Greg and Philippe, told FRANCE 24’s Cyrielle Cabot at Place de la Bastille in Paris. “Street protests have already brought down a law in the past, we can do it again!”

“Macron has shown nothing but contempt for the French," they added. "Today, it is no longer just about pensions. It is all our frustration and anger at a government that does not listen when we express our opinions."

3:35pm: Official figures show sharp increase in public sector workers joining strikes

Some 15.5% of people on strike at midday on Thursday work in the French public sector, according to official figures from the civil service.

This shows a sharp increase in participation among France’s 2.5 million civil servants compared to the previous national strike on March 15, when it had fallen to less than 3%.

3:22pm: French pension reform showdown 'an acid test' for unions and government

Numbers that turn out for Thursday’s protests will be significant in showing whether unions can still mobilise people against the reforms, or whether the government can expect unrest to blow over quickly, says Paul Smith, Associate Professor in French History and Politics at the University of Nottingham.

“This is really an acid test on both sides, for the trade unions and the government,” he said.


2:57pm: Union leaders call for ‘no violence’

The secretary general of the CFDT Laurent Berger called for “no violence” in protests throughout France, saying that the unions needed to “keep [public] opinion until the end”. He said that Thursday had "revived the mobilisation” in national strikes against pension reforms, which have been ongoing since January.

The leader of the hardline CGT Union Philippe Martinez said he felt that Emmanuel Macron had "thrown a can of gasoline on the fire" with his televised interview on Wednesday, adding that unions had written to the president to alert him to the "explosive situation" in the country.

>> Macron breaks silence on France’s bitter pension battle: Key takeaways

2:49pm: Unions in Marseille claim record turnout for anti-reform march

Demonstrations in Marseille on Thursday against pension reform had a record number of participants according to figures from unions, who said 280,000 people joined street protests.

Local authorities estimated there were 16,000 attendees.

The previous record for protests in the city was 240,000 people joining a protest departing from the old port, according to unions.

The Marseille prefecture puts the record at 40,000 people joining protests against pension reforms on January 31.

Demonstrators walk on the "Vieux Port" during a demonstration, in Marseille, southeastern France, on March 23, 2023. © Nicolas Tucat, AFP

1:57pm: Protesters gather for march through Paris

In Paris, protesters are gathering at Place de la Bastille for a march that will cross through landmark sites in the capital, FRANCE 24’s Cyrielle Cabot and Ben Dodman report.

The cortege is expected to set off at 2pm before passing through Place de la République and ending at Place de l’Opéra at 7pm. Authorities have warned that traffic will be severely disrupted.

1:43pm: More than a quarter of public sector electricity workers join strikes

More than a quarter of employees (25.3%) at national electricity provider EDF stopped work at midday on Thursday for the ninth day of strikes against the pension reform, management has said.

1:33pm: Hundreds of protesters invade tracks at Paris's Gare de Lyon train station

In Paris, hundreds of protesters on Thursday morning flooded onto train tracks in the Gare de Lyon, interrupting traffic and causing a delay of at least half an hour, according to national railway operator SNCF.

"And we will go on, we will go on, we will go on till revocation" of the reform, they chanted.

Deputy mayor of Paris, Ian Brossart, tweeted a video of the blockade.

1:25pm : French national rail provider SNCF warns of  widespread disruption

National rail provider SNCF has said it will only run half of its Inoui and Ouigo TGV trains and a third of its TER on Thursday.

According to several union sources, 35% of SNCF workers officially declared their intention to join strikes.

12:14pm: French government renews requisition order at Fos-sur-Mer fuel depot

The French government has renewed the requisition order requiring three employees to return to work at the Fos-sur-Mer fuel depot in southern France to secure petrol supplies for the region, an energy ministry spokesperson said on Thursday.

A requisition order has also been prepared for the Gonfreville site in northern France, but the formal notification has not been issued at this stage, the spokesperson added.

The order follows more than two weeks of industrial action that is part of the nationwide movement against pension system changes.

11:34am: Police to be deployed throughout the country 

Some 12,000 police, including 5,000 in Paris, will be deployed during the day, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said on Thursday.

Spontaneous protests have broken out on a daily basis in recent days, leading to hundreds of arrests and accusations of heavy-handed tactics by police.

Amnesty International has expressed alarm "about the widespread use of excessive force and arbitrary arrests reported in several media outlets".

Paris police chief Laurent Nunez on Thursday denied this, saying the security forces only detained people from "gatherings [...] committing violence".

11:03am: Nationwide disruption as protests get under way across France 

The streets of Paris continue to smell strongly as approximately 7,000 tonnes of rubbish remain uncollected. Although the French government has ordered some bin collectors to gather the rubbish for health reasons, this process is a challenge as many incinerator sites have been blocked by protesters. 

Public transport, including regional trains, flights and metro services, has been heavily impacted. Many schools have also shut down as teachers joined the strike action. 

Public anger has not faded, with many reacting strongly to French President Macron's live television interview yesterday. Trade union leaders said he made a "mockery" of the French public and called on people to continue striking, including at oil refineries.

FRANCE 24's Catherine Norris Trent reports. 


10:47am: Protesters partially block access to CDG airport 

In an early action Thursday, protesters blocked road access to Terminal 1 at the capital's Charles de Gaulle airport, French television pictures showed.

The spontaneous protest near Terminal 1 would not impact flights, a spokesperson for Aeroports de Paris said.

10:06am: Dunkirk LNG terminal blocked by strike until Friday morning, union says 

The Dunkirk liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal in northern France was blocked early on Thursday after workers voted to renew strike action against the government's planned changes to pensions, a union source said.

It will be blocked until Friday morning with a general meeting to be held with workers around noon that day to decide if the strike will be renewed again, the source said.

9:33am: French unions dig in after Macron defends pension reform

Trains were disrupted and a new day of nationwide protests kicked off in France on Thursday after a defiant President Emmanuel Macron pledged to implement a contentious pensions overhaul by the end of the year.

France's leader on Wednesday said he was prepared to accept unpopularity because the bill raising the minimum retirement age from 62 to 64 was "necessary" and "in the general interest of the country".

Protests were planned across the country on Thursday in the latest day of nationwide strikes that began in mid-January against the pension changes.

Half of all high-speed trains were cancelled, national railway operator SNCF said, after union sources reported around a third of staff would be striking.

At least half the trains into Paris from the suburbs were not running.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP & Reuters)

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