French President Emmanuel Macron told allies Tuesday he plans to keep the government in place and not dissolve parliament, defying opponents and widespread public anger over his pensions reform.
Police arrested another 234 people in Paris on Monday night during clashes between protesters and security forces, with several groups burning trash bins, bikes and other objects.
The latest unrest came after Macron’s centrist government narrowly survived two no-confidence motions in parliament on Monday, meaning the legislation to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64 looks almost certain to enter into force.
But anger over the government’s decision to invoke a notorious constitutional power to ram the reform through parliament without a vote last week has dismayed many ruling party MPs and caused fury on the streets.
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“The reform is adopted but it is not seen as legitimate in the eyes of French people,” political scientist Jerome Jaffre told France Inter radio on Tuesday.
“That’s a source of problems, of bitterness, and it’s far from being resolved.”
Clashes also took place in eastern cities Dijon and Strasbourg overnight, while protesters blocked a motorway in southeast France on Tuesday and continued to disrupt traffic around the northern port of Le Havre.
Macron’s office announced that the president would break his silence on Wednesday and give a live television interview to the TF1 and France broadcasters at 1:00 pm (1200 GMT).
But he appears intent on defending what was to be a flagship reform of his second term, which began last May.
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He told allies at a meeting on Tuesday morning at the presidential palace that he did not intend to dissolve parliament, change his government or call a referendum on the pension changes — all demands from his opponents.
Instead he called on his troops to provide ideas in the “next two to three weeks” with a view to adopting “a change in method and reform agenda,” according to a participant who spoke to AFP on condition of anonymity.
– Strikes ahead –
The government on Monday survived two no-confidence motions lodged by opposition groups, with one failing by just nine votes in the 577-seat National Assembly.
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The far-right National Rally party of Marine Le Pen lodged an appeal against the law at the Constitutional Council on Tuesday, but it is seen as unlikely to succeed.
“One of the difficulties at the moment, after the no-confidence votes, is that there are no obvious solutions (to the political crisis), or they are difficult to find,” Vincent Martigny, a politics professor from the University of Nice, told the France 5 channel.
Under-fire Borne has refused to bow to calls to resign, telling AFP that she was “determined to continue to carry out the necessary transformations in our country with my ministers”.
As well as the political crisis sparked by the law, the government is also contending with growing public order problems and the risk of economic disruption.
Spontaneous protests by young people have seen clashes with police nightly since last week, while strikes and blockades at oil refineries could create fuel shortages.
Pumps are running dry in the southern port of Marseille where long queues of drivers can be seen at petrol stations.
“I’ve been to most stations,” 18-year-old high school student Christos Chatts told AFP as he looked for petrol in the city centre ahead of his end-of-year exams. “They’re either closed, or there’s no fuel, or there are monster queues.”
The government said Tuesday that it would requisition workers at a fuel depot in Fos-sur-Mer near Marseille, forcing them back to work on pain of prosecution.
The streets of Paris also remain strewn with uncollected rubbish after a two-week strike by garbage workers, causing public health worries.
“The key word for the days to come is ‘pacification’,” former president Francois Hollande, a frequent critic of Macron, told the LCI channel on Tuesday.
Another round of strikes and protests organised by trade unions have been called on Thursday and are expected to again bring public transport to a standstill.
“Nothing will weaken the determination of the workers,” the hard-line CGT union has said.
A survey on Sunday showed Macron’s personal rating at its lowest level since the height the anti-government “Yellow Vest” protest movement in 2019, with only 28 percent of respondents having a positive view of him.