President Emmanuel Macron's controversial pension reform passed last week in France, which has caused havoc across the country. As soon as it was announced that the retirement age would be raised from 62 to 64, citizens took to the streets and began a series of protests against this legislative change.
Protests, arson and other disturbances have been frequent not only in Paris, but also in major French cities such as Bordeaux. There, the access door to City Hall was set ablaze by the protests. The town's mayor, Pierre Hurmic, said on Twitter that he was "saddened by this act of vandalism."
This Thursday night, the access door to the Bordeaux City Hall was set on fire. I am shocked and saddened by such an act of vandalism. I condemn in the strongest terms this violence, which has no other meaning than to attack the common home of the people of Bordeaux.
Ce jeudi soir, la porte d’accès à l’Hôtel de Ville de Bordeaux a été incendiée.
Je suis choqué et attristé par un tel acte de vandalisme.
Je condamne avec la plus grande fermeté cette violence qui n’a d’autre sens que celui de s’attaquer à la maison commune des Bordelais.
— Pierre HURMIC (@PierreHurmic) March 23, 2023
However, the act of vandalism did not deter the mayor, who assured that, despite the fire, the government building would remain open as usual:
After taking stock of the situation with my teams and ensuring that all safety conditions will be met, I have taken the decision to reopen City Hall tomorrow morning at the usual hours to ensure the continuity of public service to the population.
Après avoir fait un point de situation avec mes équipes et m’être assuré que toutes les conditions de sécurité seront réunies, j’ai pris la décision de rouvrir l’Hôtel de Ville dès demain matin aux heures habituelles pour garantir la continuité du service public à la population.
— Pierre HURMIC (@PierreHurmic) March 23, 2023
From peaceful protests to extreme riots
In the French capital, the situation does not seem to be improving. According to Minister of the Interior Gerald Darmanin in an interview with the French radio channel C News, a total of 903 fires were reported in Paris alone. However, the havoc has so far resulted in a total of 457 arrests in France and 441 police officers injured:
It is a difficult record because the police and gendarmes protected those who were the target of the demonstration, mostly people who simply wanted to demonstrate against the pension reform.
This is the result of the escalating protests. As the minister explained during his interview, the demonstrations escalated from being peaceful to riots spearheaded by the "extreme left" that "has to be fought":
I believe that the extreme left wants to kill our institutions. When they attack 441 gendarmes with Molotov cocktails and cobblestones, when they attack them physically, when they set fire not only to police stations, and it is already a disgrace, but to city halls, ... they want to attack the Republic. I believe that this radicalization of the extreme left has to be fought by all. This morning, I heard Laurent Berger, very responsibly, condemn this violence. I thank the unions in general, who are extremely responsible. We have not heard much from opposition politicians condemning the attacks on gendarmes and public buildings.
In total, the minister assured, there were some 300 demonstrations throughout the country. The most crowded were the ones that took place this Wednesday. There were a total of 3.5 million protesters across France, CGT claimed, although the Interior Ministry reduced the figure to 1.3 million, as reported by DW. On Thursday, the union reported, a total of 3 million French people took to the streets in protest to the pension reform.
Charles III postpones his visit to France
The protests also had political consequences. The King of England, Charles III, postponed his visit to France until the situation returned to normal. It was Buckingham Palace that made the announcement, as reported in The Guardian, that the British monarch was suspending his state visit:
The king and the queen consort’s state visit to France has been postponed. Their [m]ajesties greatly look forward to the opportunity to visit France as soon as dates can be found.
The French Elysée Palace soon announced that Charles III was delaying his visit to the country. Emmanuel Macron stated in a press release that the reason for the postponement of Charles III's trip and his queen consort, Camilla, was exclusively due to the situation with the protests:
In view of the announcement on Thursday of a new national day of action against the pension reform on Tuesday, March 28 in France, the visit of King Charles III, initially scheduled for March 26-29 in our country, will be postponed. This decision was taken by the French and British Governments, following a telephone conversation between the President of the Republic and the King this morning, in order to be able to receive His Majesty King Charles III in conditions that correspond to our friendly relationship. This state visit will be rescheduled as soon as possible.