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Macron govt faces no-trust votes over unpopular French pension reform

French President Emmanuel Macron’s government is facing no-confidence motions in parliament and intensified protests after imposing a contentious pension reform without a vote in the lower house.

Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne on Thursday invoked article 49.3 of the constitution to impose the pension overhaul by decree, sparking angry demonstrations nationwide that raged unabated on Friday.

French opposition lawmakers retaliated by filing motions of no-confidence in the government, hoping to repeal the deeply unpopular law, which will hike the retirement age from 62 to 64.

“The vote on this motion will allow us to get out on top of a deep political crisis,” said lawmaker Bertrand Pancher, whose motion was signed by independents and members of the broad left-wing NUPES coalition.

The far-right National Rally [RN] filed a second motion. It was expected to get less backing, but the party said it would also vote for the other motion.

They are likely to be debated in parliament on Monday afternoon, parliamentary sources told the AFP news agency.

Borne’s government is largely expected to survive any vote. The no-confidence motion would need backing from around half the contingent of the opposition right-wing Republicans, a scenario seen as highly improbable.

Protests across France

Angry protesters took to the streets in Paris and other cities for a second day, trying to pressure lawmakers to doom the unpopular retirement age increase he’s trying to impose without a vote in the National Assembly. 

“We won’t give up,” said Philippe Melaine, a 49-year-old biology teacher. “There’s still hope that the reform can be revoked.”

Groups of people threw bottles and fireworks at the security forces, who responded by firing tear gas to try to clear the square. Police said they made 12 arrests.

In the energy sector, CGT union representative Eric Sellini strikers would halt production at a large refinery by this weekend or Monday.

He added that strikers continued delivering less fuel from several other sites than norma.

Dozens of protesters flooded onto the train tracks at the main station in the southwestern city of Bordeaux, an AFP photographer said.

Unions have called for another day of mass strikes and protests for next Thursday, branding the government’s move “a complete denial of democracy”.

“Changing the government or prime minister will not put out this fire, only withdrawing the reform,” said the head of the moderate CFDT union, Laurent Berger.

‘Playing with fire’

Macron put the pensions reform, which also seeks to increase the number of years people have to work to receive a full pension, at the centre of his re-election campaign last year.

But the 45-year-old former banker lost his parliamentary majority in June after the lower-house National Assembly elections.

Opposition lawmakers jeered and booed as Borne invoked the controversial article 49.3 to ram through the pensions law on Thursday, having failed to ensure a majority.

The influential Le Monde newspaper warned that Macron was “playing with fire”.

“If the country slides into a new bout of anger or locks itself into vengeful paralysis, the executive will only have itself to blame,” it said in an editorial.

Borne, whose own position is now on the line, has used the contested loophole to bypass a parliament vote 11 times since becoming prime minister last year.

RN figurehead Marine Le Pen, who leads its MPs in parliament, has described Thursday’s cabinet move as “a total failure for the government”.

The ensuing unrest saw 310 people arrested around the country, including 258 in Paris, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said.

“The opposition is legitimate, the protests are legitimate, but wreaking havoc is not,” he said.

According to polls, two-thirds of French people oppose the pensions overhaul.

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