Police clashed with protesters as over a million demonstrated against President Macron's pension reform
French authorities struggled on Thursday to suppress nationwide protests against President Emmanuel Macron's pension reform. Over a million demonstrators took to the streets across the country in what some security sources described as an "insurrection" against the government in Paris.
Tens of thousands of workers went on strike and protesters blocked public transportation, schools and oil refineries. Police used tear gas, water cannons, flash-bangs and batons to disperse the demonstrators. Videos making rounds on social media showed heavily armored officers clubbing unarmed protesters.
Other videos showed barricades burning in the streets of Paris. The entrance to the city hall in Bordeaux, the regional capital of Nouvelle-Aquitaine, was set ablaze at one point.
At least one unit of firefighters switched sides and joined the protesters. Multiple eyewitnesses described the situation as "out of control."
"It's war in Paris, no time to post, take care of yourself," tweeted one independent media outlet.
Almost 150 police officers and gendarmes were injured, Interior Minister Garald Darmanin said on Thursday evening, calling the situation "absolutely unacceptable" and demanding harsh punishment for the attackers.
Darmanin also told reporters that 172 people were detained for questioning about "looting and arson" in Paris, and that 190 fires had been set in the French capital, 50 of which were still burning as of 10 pm local time.
The interior minister blamed the "extreme left" and "black bloc" anarchists for the worst of the violence.
Police estimated more than a million protesters were in the streets.
The outpouring of popular discontent was triggered by President Macron's announcement that the retirement age will be raised from 62 to 64, starting next year. Macron has insisted that the change was necessary, to prevent the bankruptcy of the national pension system.
The Elysee Palace imposed the change without consulting lawmakers, who have been trying to deal with the controversial proposal since January. Protesters responded by calling on Macron to resign.
Appearing on TV on Wednesday, Macron said his only mistake was "failing to convince people" of the decision's merits, but insisted he would not back down, even if that meant having to "shoulder unpopularity."
While there is a constitutionally protected right to protest, Macron said, if the malcontents use violence, "then that is no longer democracy."
Though heavily criticized due to the harsh coronavirus lockdowns and mandates, Macron easily won re-election in 2022, eventually defeating Marine Le Pen by a 17-point margin. The runoff election saw the lowest turnout since 1969.