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‘Weakened’ Macron sticks with pension bill, eyes new reforms

PARIS — French President Emmanuel Macron is looking to regain the initiative with new reforms in the coming weeks after his government barely survived a no-confidence motion over an unpopular pension bill and nationwide protests continued.

As labor unions prepared another day of strikes and demonstrations against Macron’s pension reform on Thursday, protesters waving flags and chanting gathered in central Paris on Tuesday evening, marking the sixth consecutive day of protests since the passing of the bill.

Garbage bins were set ablaze around 2030 CET/1930 GMT in the Place de la Republique in central Paris, and protesters set off fireworks. Fire engines arrived to put out the fires and the police charged to disperse demonstrators.

Some in Macron’s own camp have warned him against continuing business as usual amid violent protests and rolling strikes that represent the most serious challenge to the centrist president’s authority since the “Yellow Vest” revolt four years ago.

“We are all weakened. The president, the government and the majority,” a senior MP in Macron’s camp, Gilles Le Gendre, told Liberation newspaper. “It’s not because the law was adopted that we can do business as usual.”

Another MP in Macron’s camp, Patrick Vignal, bluntly urged the president to suspend the pension reform bill, which will raise the retirement age by two years to 64, given the anger it has triggered, and its deep unpopularity.

But Macron does not plan any reshuffle, snap elections or major changes of any sort and has ruled out withdrawing the pension law, a source who took part in meetings between Macron and key allies on Tuesday told Reuters.

He will instead try to use a TV interview on Wednesday to “calm things down” and will plan reforms for the rest of his mandate, the source said.

Speaking to parliament, Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne and Labour Minister Olivier Dussopt also made clear the government would not change tack.

While Borne said the administration would try in future to better involve citizens and unions in lawmaking, she gave no specifics, and both said they had devoted as much time to dialogue on the pension bill as possible.

“What we expect from the President of the Republic is that he draws up an outlook … a three-, six-month calendar (of reforms),” Sacha Houlie, an MP in Macron’s camp, told Reuters, saying he hoped for proposals on issues including how businesses could be pushed to share more of their profits with workers.

Socialist Party chief Oliver Faure told the government it was “playing with fire.”

Other opposition MPs urged Macron to fire Borne, call snap elections and hold a referendum on the pension bill because of the widespread anger.

Meanwhile, the left-wing NUPES coalition and the far-right Rassemblement National have requested the Constitutional Council to judge whether the reform and the way it was adopted violate the constitution.

Polls show a wide majority of French are opposed to the pension reform, as well as the government’s decision to push the bill through parliament without a vote.

“I think this was a denial of democracy. The government passed a law which a majority of French people were against,” script writer Jean Regnaud said. — Reuters

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