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Protests, clashes after French government forces through pension reforms

Protests and clashes erupted in Paris on Thursday after the French government used its special constitutional powers to force through controversial pension reforms without parliamentary consent.

Police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse protesters from the Place de la Concorde near the parliament.

Groups of protesters set piles of rubbish and shops ablaze and hurled projectiles at police.

Following the evacuation of Place de la Concorde, protests continued in smaller streets nearby, where police officers also chased the violent groups.

Police arrested 197 people for vandalism in Paris, broadcaster BFMTV reported.

Protests and clashes also erupted in other cities such as Lyon and Rennes, according to Le Figaro newspaper.

Trade unions have called for another round of protests on March 23.

French lawmakers who oppose the plan also joined protesters after the government scrapped a scheduled parliamentary vote.

Earlier on Thursday, President Emmanuel Macron decided to use Article 49.3 of the constitution to adopt the controversial draft bill without a parliamentary vote.

After it was passed by the Senate, the final version of the draft bill was supposed to be taken up for parliamentary approval.

However, Macron held consultations with Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne, other ministers and heads of parliamentary groups of political parties to decide whether to use special constitutional powers to bypass the parliamentary process, Le Figaro reported.

Borne then headed to the parliament to give a speech and invoke Article 49.3, which angered opposition members who previously said they would call a censure motion in case such a step was taken.

Lawmakers against the reforms walked out and the session was suspended.

They joined protesters, including leaders of major trade unions, at the Place de la Concorde.

Macron’s decision to use the special constitutional powers was driven by the fear that lawmakers would be able to block the reforms, since the government does not have an absolute majority.

His controversial pension reform will be adopted unless the opposition calls a censure motion by 1400GMT on Friday.

The reforms include raising the retirement age from 62 to 64 in 2030 and requiring at least 43 years of work to be eligible for full pensions.

The plan has triggered public outrage since it was revealed last year, with massive protests and strikes held across the country since January.

*Umit Donmez in Paris contributed to this story

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