French riot police used batons, tear gas and water cannons to clear demonstrators from a square in central Paris where a crowd of thousands had gathered to protest a pension reform approved by President Emmanuel Macron.
Lines of police, armed with riot shields and batons, advanced towards the Place de la Concorde late Thursday evening, while others fired water cannons after a fire broke out in the center of the historic venue.
AFP reports that police fired batons and used tear gas to push protesters across the square and away from the bridge leading to the Bourbon Palace – the meeting place of the National Assembly, the lower house of the French parliament.
French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin ordered police to put in place “enhanced preventive measures” for parliamentarians in the face of continued protests that erupted when Macron shunned the French parliament and chose to press ahead with a hugely unpopular pension reform bill that would increase the pension. . From 62 to 64 years old. .
AFP said police reported eight arrests during the France Info Citation programme. Police sources said 217 people were arrested during the unrest, including in the Place de la Concorde where about 6,000 protesters set fire to wooden pallets and threw objects at police officers.
Demonstrations were also held in other French cities including Marseille, Dijon, Nantes, Rennes, Rouen, Grenoble, Toulouse and Nice.
Earlier Thursday, the Macron administration used a special constitutional power to push the bill forward amid calls for a challenge to the opposition.
When Prime Minister Elizabeth Bourne launched the special procedure for bringing the bill through the National Assembly without a vote, there were whoops and cheers from lawmakers on the left.
This decision, using Article 49.3 of the French constitution, ensured that the bill was passed, but it also showed that Macron and his government failed to obtain a sufficient majority in Parliament.
The country’s far-right opposition said it would put forward a motion of no confidence in the government.
Marine Le Pen, the far-right candidate in the last presidential election who now leads the National Assembly deputies in parliament, said the decision was a “fiasco” for Macron and that Bourne “cannot stay” in power.
The French president wants to raise the retirement age so workers can pour more money into the system, which the government says is on the verge of falling into deficit. The bill is the main piece of legislation in Macron’s second term. His plan to raise the retirement age has sparked major strikes and protests across the country since January.
“The imposition of the law by decree is a rare event and is seen as a policy failure in many ways,” Al Jazeera correspondent Natasha Butler said from outside the French parliament.
Butler said the protesters and unions have said no matter what, they will continue to protest the bill.
Butler said: “Opinion polls indicate that between two-thirds and three-quarters of the French oppose a bill they consider unfair and say it violates their rights.”
French unions are now planning another day of strikes and protests against pension reform.
“The United Trade Union Front continues to demand the withdrawal of reform and calls for a new day of strikes and demonstrations on Thursday, March 23,” trade union official Catherine Perret said in a press conference.
Previously, Bourne, the prime minister, was booed when she arrived at the National Assembly to announce the special measure.
The session was suspended for two minutes after Bourne prevented the singing of the national anthem from speaking.
When the session resumed, Bourne spoke. But his speech was drowned out by boos and cheers from opposition MPs and shouts of “resign” in a rare chaotic scene in the French parliament.
The atmosphere was tense outside Parliament as heavily armed guards and riot police surrounded the areas surrounding the Bourbon Palace.
The Senate passed the bill by a vote of 193-114, a number widely expected since the Senate’s conservative majority supports raising the retirement age.
Macron’s coalition lost its parliamentary majority last year, forcing the government to rely on conservative lawmakers to push through the bill.
The far-left and right-wing lawmakers are fiercely opposed, and the conservatives are divided, resulting in an unexpected outcome.