PARIS, March 11 (Reuters) – Demonstrators took to the streets in France on Saturday, a seventh day of demonstrations against President Emmanuel Macron’s unpopular pension reform plan, but not in the numbers officials had expected.
The protests – and a rolling strike that has affected refineries, public transport and garbage collection – are aimed at pressuring the government to withdraw the pension scheme, whose key measure is to raise the retirement age by two years to 64.
According to figures from the Ministry of the Interior, 368,000 protesters marched in various cities. Officials expected 1 million people to participate in the march.
Like previous protests, Saturday’s events were free of any major clashes with police.
According to government figures, 1.28 million people took to the streets on Tuesday, the highest turnout since the protest movement began.
The government insists its reform plan is necessary to ensure the pension system works and has said it will not back down. The Senate, the upper house of parliament, continues to review the reform bill during the weekend and could vote on the text by Sunday night, moving it closer to enactment.
In a joint statement, French unions called on the government to organize a “citizens’ consultation” as soon as possible, maintaining a rare show of unity since the protest movement began in late January.
The unions plan to keep up the pressure “and prove that the vast majority of the population is determined to say no to the proposed bill,” he said.
Opinion polls show a majority of voters oppose Macron’s plan, while a slim majority support the strike actions.
An additional day of nationwide strikes and protests was planned for this Wednesday, which could coincide with a key step in the legislative process.
Short power supply due to strikes
The right-wing Senate, aligned with Macron’s centrist Renaissance party, is expected to vote in favor of the pension plan. It will then be reviewed by a joint committee of MPs from the lower and upper houses, possibly on Wednesday.
If the committee agrees on a text, a final vote in both chambers could take place soon, but the outcome still seems uncertain in the lower chamber, the National Assembly, where Macron’s party needs the votes of allies for a majority. it occurs.
“A lot could happen next week as well,” Marilis Lyon, deputy secretary general of the country’s largest CFDT union, told FranceInfo radio. “Will the text be voted on in the National Assembly? We will have to rally. It is now or never.”
A spokesman for TotalEnergies (TTEF.PA) told Reuters strikes were continuing at the oil major’s French refineries and depots, while public railway operator SNCF said national and regional services would be heavily disrupted over the weekend.
In Paris, garbage is piling up in the streets, with residents noticing an increased presence of rats, according to local media.
A spokesman for the CGT union told Reuters that national electricity production in France at nuclear, thermal and hydroelectric plants had been reduced by 7.1 gigawatts (GW), or 14%, on Saturday because of the strike.
The spokesman said maintenance at six French nuclear reactors, including Penly 1, had also been blocked.
Reporting by Tangi Salon, Forrest Crellin and Benoit van Overstraeten Editing by Mike Harrison and Frances Carey
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.