Protests in France: “Mask against tear gas included”

Protests in France: “Mask against tear gas included”

During the tenth general strike against the pension reform, both demonstrators and the police fear violence. President Macron is uncompromising.

A man dressed in black holds a street sign in his hand

Hooded protesters with full body action in Paris Photo: Jeremias Gonzalez/ap

PARIS/BERLIN taz | It may be the last anti-pensions demonstration in France that Héloise will attend. The 26-year-old, who works in education and only wants to give her first name, is back on the streets of the capital Paris this Tuesday. The unions have called for a general strike in France for the tenth time, and Héloise is taking part for the sixth time, she says.

The protests have changed, she says, since they began in January, when President Emmanuel Macron announced his controversial pension reform. “It was quite peaceful until Macron passed paragraph 49.3. Since then, she has found it increasingly dangerous to go to the demonstrations. “I now have to plan what I’ll take to the protests – like a mask against tear gas.”

Paragraph 49.3 – Using this controversial constitutional article, which gives the president the power to rule over parliament, Macron pushed through his reform in mid-March, which would raise the retirement age from 62 to 64. A subsequent motion of no confidence in the Macron government by two opposition parties failed.

The police presence has also changed, says Héloise: more forces, more controls. Already around 2.30 p.m. – the protests on Tuesday started half an hour earlier – reports the French newspaper Le Monde of 6,400 police checks and eleven arrests in Paris alone. And the numbers are constantly increasing. Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin had previously said 13,000 officers were deployed, almost half of them in the capital – an unprecedented number, Darmanin said.

Transport is canceled, the Eiffel Tower remains closed

The willingness to use violence, fears Héloise, could now continue to increase – on both sides. According to the French news agency AFP, the so-called black bloc is particularly feared. Political scientist Fabien Jobard reports to AFP: The hard core of the group is violent and has a certain amount of training, which includes retreat techniques or military commands using hand signals. They often used Molotov cocktails. This group, he says, probably only included a few hundred people.

According to Jobard, it is also dangerous that the security forces reacted to violence with violence and thus contributed to the radicalization of the protests. It is therefore foreseeable that some French people will no longer want to attend the protests in the future, says Héloise, the fear is increasing.

But many still seem to be motivated: demonstrations are not only taking place in Paris, but also in smaller cities such as Nantes, Rennes or Bordeaux. And the strikers are not letting up either: Numerous means of transport are canceled on Tuesday, and because of the strikes in refineries, petrol and diesel are becoming scarce at some gas stations. Even the Eiffel Towerlandmark of the city, remains closed on Tuesday, it is not possible to drive up to the lookout tower.

The night before, Macron had emphasized with the Wanting to talk to trade unions – but not about the key points of a reform.

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