President Emmanuel Macron was under pressure on Friday to find a way out of a crisis that has seen some of France’s worst street violence in years over a pension bill he has pushed through parliament without a vote.
In Paris and many cities across the country, clean-up crews sifted through broken glass, charred garbage cans and shattered bus stops after violent clashes overnight between black-clad anarchists and police.
Some 441 police officers were injured and 475 people were arrested. Dozens of protesters were also injured, including a woman who lost a thumb in the Normandy town of Rouen.
The protest rallies that gathered large crowds throughout the day were otherwise largely peaceful.
Opinion polls show a wide majority of voters are opposed to delaying retirement age by two years to 64. They were further angered by the government deciding to skip the vote in parliament.
On a shattered Starbucks window, someone had tagged “Democracy” in big red letters. Other tags seen on burnt down newspaper kiosks and damaged shop windows read “Anti-Macron” and “Macron, resign.”
“Everybody is worried this morning, because there has been unacceptable violence,” the head of the CFDT labour union Laurent Berger told RTL radio, urging Macron to step in.
“We need to calm things down, before there is a tragedy,” he said. “To find a way out, we need the government and the president to make a gesture.”
The solution, the influential Berger said, would be to put the reform, which pushes retirement age by two years to 64, on pause for six months and look for compromises.
In a TV interview on Wednesday, Macron said he would not withdraw the law and that it would proceed as planned and enter into force by year end.
On Friday, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin told CNews TV that Macron was “worried for the country” because of the street violence and gave no sign of him changing tack.
Fuel shipments resumed early Friday from TotalEnergies TTEF.PA Gonfreville refinery in Normandy after police intervened to disperse refinery workers holding a blockage, Energy Minister Agnes Pannier-Runacher said.
Unions have called for regional action over the weekend and new nationwide strikes and protests on Tuesday, the day Britain’s King Charles is due to travel to Bordeaux from Paris by train on a state visit.