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Renewed pension protests rage across France but Macron not backing down

Protesters have disrupted vehicle traffic at Paris’ main airport and police have fired clouds of tear gas in other French cities as people marched in the thousands in a new round of strikes and nationwide demonstrations seeking to get President Emmanuel Macron to scrap pension reforms.

Ten previous rounds of nationwide strikes and protests since January have failed to get Macron to change course and there was no sign from his government that Thursday’s 11th round of upheaval would make it back down.

Crowds marched behind unions’ coloured flags and banners in Marseille on the Mediterranean coast, Bordeaux in the southwest, Lyon in the southeast and other cities.

In the western city of Nantes, rumbling tractors joined the parade of marchers and thick clouds of police tear gas were deployed against demonstrators. 

Public radio France Bleu reported that police tear gas also was fired to disperse demonstrators in the Brittany city of Rennes.

At Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport, about 100 demonstrators blocked a road leading to Terminal 1 on Thursday morning and entered the terminal building, the airport operator said. It said flights were unaffected, but travellers towing their luggage had to weave their way past flag-waving protesters.

A representative of the CGT trade union at the airport, Loris Foreman, told BFMTV that the demonstrators wanted “to show the world and Europe that we don’t want to work to 64 years old.”

Striking workers had less of an impact on transport services than during previous days of protests. But the marches around the country showed that opposition to the pension reform remains strong.

It’s “a deep anger, a cold anger,” said Sophie Binet, the newly elected general secretary of the CGT union.

“We can’t turn the page until the reform is withdrawn,” she said, promising more protests.

READ MORE: French union leaders denounce ‘useless’ pension reform meeting with PM

Wide-spread anger

On Wednesday in Paris, rat catchers set the tone by hurling the cadavers of rodents at City Hall.

That protest was one of the more shocking illustrations of how Macron’s plans to raise the national retirement age from 62 to 64 have infuriated workers.

Broadcaster BFMTV showed the rodents’ emaciated corpses being tossed by workers in white protective suits.

Natacha Pommet, a leader of the public services branch of the CGT union, said Thursday that Paris’ rat catchers wanted “to show the hard reality of their mission” and that fury with Macron’s pension reforms is morphing into a wider movement of workers expressing grievances over salaries and other issues.

“All this anger brings together all types of anger,” she said in a phone interview.

READ MORE: Protests rage on in France as Macron holds crisis meeting

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