Macron holds crisis meeting as more France protests loom

French President Emmanuel Macron summoned government ministers for a crisis meeting on Monday, as tensions ran high a day before another major round of strikes and protests against his pension reforms.Nearly two weeks after Macron rammed the new law through parliament using a special provision sidestepping any vote, unions have vowed no let-up in mass protests to get the government to back down.They have called for another big day of action on Tuesday, the 10th such mobilisation since protests started in mid-January against the controversial law, which includes raising the retirement age to 64 from 62.Macron, whose approval ratings in opinion polls are at a low point, said last week he accepted the "unpopularity" that came with the reform.Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne, meanwhile, said that while there was no plan to drop the legislation, she was ready for fresh dialogue with unions."We have to find the right path... We need to calm down," she told AFP in an interview on Sunday.Starting Monday, Borne has scheduled talks over three weeks, including with members of parliament, political parties, local authorities and unions.A state visit to France by Britain's King Charles III, which had been due to begin on Sunday, was postponed because of the unrest.- 'Very big move' -Instead of hosting King Charles for a day of pomp and ceremony, Macron instead met Borne, other cabinet ministers and senior lawmakers for the crisis talks at the Elysee Palace, the presidency said. Borne presented the plan for consultations to the president at Monday's meeting and was then expected to take it to Macron's allies and cabinet members, presidential sources said.If unions accept her offer for talks, Borne is expected to put new measures on the table designed to ease the impact of the pensions law targeting physically demanding jobs, conditions for older workers and retraining.But early reactions were not promising for the prime minister.Laurent Berger, the head of the moderate CFDT union, who has taken an unexpectedly hard line against the pension reform, said he would accept the offer of talks but only if the reform was first "put to one side".Berger called on the government to come up with a "very big move on pensions".Left-wing firebrand Jean-Luc Melenchon said on Sunday that there was "a very simple way" to return to peaceful relations, and that was "to withdraw the law".The protest movement against the pension reform has turned into the biggest domestic crisis of Macron's second mandate, with police and protesters clashing regularly in Paris and other cities since the reform was forced through.- 'Highly disrupted' -Last Thursday, the previous major protest day, police reported 457 arrests across France and injuries to 441 police officers.Government spokesman Olivier Veran called Melenchon and his party "profiteers of anger", while Green party lawmaker Sandrine Rousseau accused Macron and Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin of stoking the unrest.According to Paris mass transit operator RATP, metros and suburban trains will be "highly disrupted" on Tuesday.Rubbish collectors in the capital are continuing their strike, with close to 8,000 tonnes of garbage piled up in the streets as of Sunday.Adding to the waste treatment blockage, workers at an incineration plant just outside Paris stopped work on Monday. France's civil aviation authority has told airlines at Orly airport in Paris, as well as the Marseille, Bordeaux and Toulouse airports, to cancel 20 percent of flights for Tuesday and Wednesday.Some 15 percent of service stations in France are short of petrol because us refinery strikes, while workers at a nuclear power plant in southwestern France stopped a rector and limited access for crews.The Louvre in Paris, the world's most visited museum, was closed on Monday because of labour action.About a third of primary school teachers were expected to go on strike Tuesday. French police have meanwhile come under severe criticism for heavy-handed tactics during recent demonstrations.The Council of Europe said on Friday that peaceful protesters and journalists had to be protected from police violence and arbitrary arrest.On Sunday the IGPN, the internal affairs unit of the French police, said it had launched 17 investigations into incidents since the protests began.burs-jh/sjw/giv

France's Macron rams through pension reform without vote

French President Emmanuel Macron's government rammed a controversial pension reform through parliament without a vote on Thursday, risking more turbulence and street protests after a day of high political drama.The move was an admission the government lacked a majority in the National Assembly to pass the legislation to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64 after weeks of demonstrations and strikes.The Senate had adopted the bill earlier Thursday, but misgivings in the ruling party and reluctance by right-wing opposition MPs to side with Macron meant the government faced losing a vote in the lower house. "We can't take the risk of seeing 175 hours of parliamentary debate come to nothing," Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne told MPs, shouting through jeers and boos from the opposition benches who also loudly sang the French national anthem in protest.Trade unions and political analysts had warned beforehand that adopting the legislation without a vote -- by invoking article 49.3 of the constitution -- risked radicalising opponents and would undercut the law's democratic legitimacy."It's a total failure for the government," far-right leader Marine Le Pen told reporters afterwards. "From the beginning the government fooled itself into thinking it had a majority," she said.According to polls two thirds of French people oppose the pension reform. "When a president has no majority in the country, no majority in the National Assembly, he must withdraw his bill," added Socialist Party chief Olivier Faure.Some opposition parties including Le Pen's are set to call a no-confidence vote in the centrist government on Friday, but Borne's cabinet is expected to survive, thanks to backing from the right-wing Republicans. - Second mandate -Trade unions called for further protests and a crowd of thousands gathered spontaneously on the central Place de la Concorde in Paris, on the opposite side of the river Seine from parliament, watched over by riot police."Forcing this through by using the 49.3 must lead to a response that is equal to the contempt shown to the people," the head of the hard-left CGT union, Philippe Martinez, told AFP. "Protests and strikes must gather pace."Antoine Bristielle, a public opinion expert at the Fondation Jean-Jaures, a Paris think-tank, told AFP that enacting the law without a vote risked further antagonising the country and deepening anti-Macron feeling. "It will give another boost to the protests. It could lead to more pressure on the government," he said.Opinion polls showed that roughly eight out of 10 people opposed legislating in this way, while a growing number of people were losing faith in French democracy, he said. After trying and failing to push through pension reform during his first term, Macron returned to the issue while campaigning for re-election last April.He defeated Le Pen running on a pro-business platform that promised to lower unemployment and make the French "work more" in order to finance the social security system. But he then lost his parliamentary majority in June after elections for the National Assembly.Despite warnings from allies about the timing of the pension reform so soon after the Covid-19 pandemic and in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis, the 45-year-old former investment banker has pressed ahead.- Garbage piles -Trains, schools, public services and ports have been affected by strikes over the last six weeks amid some of the biggest protests in decades. An estimated 1.28 million people hit the streets on March 7.A rolling strike by municipal garbage collectors in Paris has also seen around 7,000 tonnes of uncollected trash pile up in the streets, attracting rats and dismaying tourists.The strike has been extended until next Monday, with the prospect of serious public health problems leading to growing calls for authorities to intervene.The government has argued that raising the retirement age, scrapping privileges for some public sector workers and toughening criteria for a full pension are needed to prevent major deficits building up. The change would also bring France closer into line with its European neighbours, most of which have raised the retirement age to 65 or above. Trade unions and other critics say the reform will penalise low-income employees in manual jobs who tend to start their careers early, forcing them to work longer than graduates who are less affected by the changes. The political implications of forcing through a reform opposed by most of the population are uncertain.Martinez warned this week that Macron risked "giving the keys" of the presidency to Le Pen at the next election in 2027.burs-adp/sjw/bp