Hundreds arrested, injured in most violent day of pension protests

By Michael Fitzpatrick - RFI
Europe  Jeremias Gonzalez  AP
MAR 24, 2023 LISTEN
© Jeremias Gonzalez / AP

Four hundred and fifty-seven people were arrested and 441 security forces injured on Thursday during nationwide protests against French President Emmanuel Macron's pensions reform, Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin said on television on Friday morning.

Darmanin also said that there had been 903 fires lit in the streets of Paris during by far the most violent day of protests since demonstrations against pension reform began in January.

"There were a lot of demonstrations and some of them turned violent, notably in Paris," Darmanin added, saying the toll was alarming. The minister praised the police for protecting the more than one million people who marched around France.

The authorities had warned that anarchist groups were expected to infiltrate the Paris march. Young men wearing hoods and facemasks were seen smashing windows and setting fire to uncollected rubbish in the latter stages of the demonstration.

Darmanin, a rightwing hardliner in Macron's centrist government, dismissed calls from protesters to withdraw the pensions reform which cleared parliament last week in controversial circumstances.

Call for democratic debate

"I don't think we should withdraw this law because of violence," he said. "If so, that means there's no state. We should accept a democratic, social debate, but not a violent debate."

Elsewhere on Thursday, the entrance to Bordeaux city hall was set on fire during clashes in the southwestern wine-exporting hub.

"I have difficulty in understanding and accepting this sort of vandalism," the mayor of Bordeaux, Pierre Hurmic, told RTL radio on Friday.

"Why would you make a target of our communal building? I can only condemn it in the strongest possible terms."

British King Charles III is set to visit the southwestern city next Tuesday, and had been expected to visit the city hall and meet with Hurmic.