GANGES, France (AP) — Hundreds of people opposed to the new law raising the retirement age from 62 to 64 demonstrated Thursday in a small town in southern France during a visit by President Emmanuel Macron, while scattered protests were staged elsewhere.
Macron’s trip to Ganges comes amid a concerted new effort by him and his government to move on from the furor caused by the pension reform.
Demonstrators sang what has become the anthem of the retirement protests: “We are here, we are here, even if Macron doesn’t want (us to be here), we are here.”
The French president met with teachers and students at a middle school, where he promoted his education policies. At his arrival, the site was hit by a power cut, which the local branch of the hard-left CGT union said was a protest action.
Dozens of police were deployed in the small town to prevent protesters from getting close to the school. They briefly used tear gas to disperse people who tried to storm the barriers.
Raising the retirement age ignited a months-long firestorm of protest. Opponents were further infuriated after Macron’s government in March chose to use a special constitutional power to pass the reform without a vote in parliament.
Later Thursday, Macron made a surprise stop in another small town in southern France, Perols, where he walked in the streets to meet with some residents in a relaxed atmosphere, shaking hands and doing selfies.
To a woman who told him she disagreed with the way he forced the pension changes through parliament, calling it undemocratic, he said, smiling: “I’m not going to resign.”
“You don’t care what people want,” the woman answered.
On Wednesday, Macron went to eastern France, where he mingled among a crowd for the first time since he enacted the law last week. Many seized the occasion to voice their anger.
The CGT union has called for scattered protest actions across the country.
Macron has argued that raising the retirement age is needed to keep the French pension system afloat amid an aging population. Unions and other opponents say wealthy taxpayers or companies should pitch in more instead, and see the reform as an erosion of France’s social safety net.
In Paris, hundreds of people Thursday held a peaceful demonstration at the Gare de Lyon train station.
They later headed to the business district of La Defense, west of the capital, where they briefly stormed the building of European stock exchange Euronext, brandishing flares.
“We want to show that the mobilization continues,” Fabien Villedieu, head of Sud Rail union, told the Associated Press. “There’s no way we’re going to let this reform pass.”
The action at Euronext aims at showing “where the money is,” Villedieu said. “France has never been so rich, never have the multinationals in France been so rich. The problem is the distribution of wealth.”
Earlier Thursday, some protesters in the northern city of Lille walked along the railway line, blocking all train traffic for about one hour. They then left peacefully.
Several unions joined a strike at the national railway company SNCF, slightly disrupting train traffic Thursday. Some regional lines and Paris suburban trains were affected, while high-speed trains were running almost as normal, the SNCF said.
Corbet reported from Paris. Oleg Cetinic and Nicolas Garriga in Paris contributed.