Protesters angry with President Emmanuel Macron and his plan to raise the pension age blocked access to an airport terminal, sat on train tracks, clashed with police and threw projectiles at a police station in a day of demonstrations across France.
Police fired tear gas at protesters in the western city of Nantes. In Rennes, they used water cannon, BFM TV footage showed. Also in the west in Lorient, Ouest-France newspaper said projectiles triggered a brief fire in the yard of a police station.
Roissy-Charles De Gaulle airport outside Paris was hit by wildcat action by workers. Near Toulouse in the southwest, burning piles of debris blocked traffic on a highway and sent plumes of smoke into the sky.
“There is a lot of anger, an explosive situation,” the leader of the hardline CGT union, Philippe Martinez, said at the start of a rally in Paris. Union leaders called for calm but were angry with what they called Macron’s “provocative” comments.
Macron broke weeks of silence on the new policy to say he would stand firm and the law would come into force by the end of the year. He compared the protests to the Jan. 6, 2021, storming of the U.S. Capitol.
Opinion polls have long shown that a majority of voters were opposed to delaying retirement age by two years to 64.
Voters were further angered by the government’s decision last week to push the pension changes through parliament without a vote and by Macron’s comments on Wednesday.
“I’m on strike to protest against the pensions reform, but also against what is happening in the government,” 27-year-old Air France programming officer Lucile Bidet said at a rally in Nantes.
“They’re not listening to the people anymore.”
“He’s the one setting the country on fire,” the CGT’s Celine Verzeletti told France Inter radio station.
Electricity output was also cut on Thursday as unions raised pressure on the government to withdraw the law. Flight services will continue to be reduced at the weekend, the civil aviation authority said.
Protests also targeted oil depots and blocked an LNG terminal in the northern city of Dunkirk.
Protests against the new law, which also accelerates a planned increase in the number of years one must work to draw a full pension, have drawn huge crowds in rallies organised by unions since January.
Most have been peaceful but anger has mounted since the government bypassed a vote in the lower house of parliament, where it does not have an absolute majority and was not sure to get enough support.
Since then, the past seven nights have seen demonstrations in Paris and other cities with rubbish bins set ablaze and clashes with police.
The latest wave of protests represents the most serious challenge to the president’s authority since the “Yellow Vest” revolt four years ago.
“The street has a legitimacy in France. If Mr Macron can’t remember this historic reality, I don’t know what he is doing here,” 42-year-old entertainment show worker Willy Mancel said at the Nantes rally.
Losing pay days when on strike takes a toll at a time of high inflation, and the government will be hoping that protests and strikes eventually lose steam.
Labour Minister Olivier Dussopt said the government was not in denial about the problems but wanted to move on.