Tensions over France’s pension reforms hit new heights on Thursday (March 23) as Bordeaux’s city hall was set ablaze.
It was the most symbolic act of a day that saw increased violence, with hundreds of police officers injured.
The interior ministry estimates more than one million people hit the streets for the latest round of protests against the government’s reforms, which raise the minimum retirement age from 62 to 64.
Strikes are still ongoing across the country, including at refineries. Although on Thursday, Gonfreville, the largest refinery in France, requisitioned workers returned to work, delivering kerosene supplies to Paris’ two largest airports.
Amidst the unrest, unions have called for further industrial action and protests next Tuesday (March 28).
Read also: Fury as French PM forces through pension reforms without a vote
‘Hundreds of police officers injured’
Turnout for Thursday’s protests was much higher than the previous day of action on March 16 and saw around 240 official demonstrations spread across France.
Figures from the interior ministry say 1.089 million protestors were on the streets, but the CGT, counting for the unions, declared around 3.5 million – making it the second largest turnout since the current wave of action began in January.
France interior minister Gérald Darmanin said on Friday that 441 police officers were injured in Thursday’s protests, including an officer in Lorient who was hospitalised after being knocked unconscious by a projectile.
The minister also announced that 457 arrests were made across the day.
For their part, protestors point at the increasing police violence, including the use of the controversial BRAV-M anti-protest units, anti-riot water cannons and tear gas. Police were also accused of causing a protester to lose their thumb in Rouen, reports BFMTV.
Bordeaux city hall set ablaze
In Bordeaux, protestors on Thursday evening set fire to the 18th-century wooden door of the city hall.
The blaze was quickly extinguished.
“I am extremely saddened, shocked, indignant, that someone could attack… the home of all the people of Bordeaux,” said the city’s mayor, Pierre Hurmic.
“I condemn in the strongest terms this violence,” he added.
URGENT - La mairie de #Bordeaux prend feu. pic.twitter.com/OUbsiZ4Iu7— AlertesInfos (@AlertesInfos) March 23, 2023
On Friday, the planned visit of King Charles III to France from March 26 was cancelled. The trip included a stop in Bordeaux.
Travel disruption continues into the weekend
Some sectors, specifically in transport and energy, are still reeling from - or dealing with - strike action.
Disruption to national and regional rail persists, with some expected to last throughout the weekend.
The transport authority for the Paris region, however, declared an almost-normal service for Friday.
Delays and cancellations are expected to flights on Friday and Saturday at Paris-Orly, Marseille-Provence, Bordeaux and Lyon airports due to strike action by air traffic controllers, said France’s Directorate General for Civil Aviation.
On Friday morning, police temporarily ended the blockade of France’s largest refinery in Gonfreville, Seine-Maritime, to allow ‘requisitioned’ employees to deliver jet fuel to Paris’ two major airports, which the government believes to be at a “critical” level.
Près d'une centaine de manifestants entourés de forces de l'ordre devant la raffinerie TotalEnergies de Gonfreville-l'Orcher pour dénoncer les réquisitions de 4 salariés ce vendredi matin @fbleuhnormandie #ReformeDesRetraites pic.twitter.com/2uNaIfusPk— Lila Lefebvre (@LefebvreLila) March 24, 2023
Union leaders at the site complained about the police presence, calling it “unnecessary”, with protestors ready to “respect the law” and allow requisitioned workers to deliver the fuel.
Strike action by refinery workers – which started on March 7 – is set to finish today, although another vote is today expected to prolong the industrial action.
It will likely further strain France’s under-pressure fuel supplies, with around one-in-five petrol stations facing a shortage.
Read more: Refinery blockades: Tips on how to find petrol and diesel in France
Fresh strikes and protests announced
Spurred on by the high number of protestors yesterday, unions have now announced fresh national strikes and protests for next Tuesday (March 28).
“While the executive is trying to turn the page, this long-lasting and responsible social and trade union movement confirms the determination of the world of work and youth to obtain the withdrawal of the reform,” they said in an official statement.
No precise action has been announced, but it is expected that the transport and education sectors will be heavily disrupted, with further announcements expected in the coming days.
The largest student union in France has called on students across France to blockade schools until the end of next week.
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