PARIS (AP) — More than 1 million people demonstrated across France on Thursday against unpopular pension reforms, and violence erupted in some places as unions called for new nationwide strikes and protests next week, coinciding with King Charles III's planned visit to France.
The Interior Ministry said the march in Paris — marred by violence, as were numerous marches elsewhere — drew 119,000 people, which was a record for the capital during the pension protests. Polls say most French oppose President Emmanuel Macron's bill to increase the retirement age from 62 to 64, which he says is necessary to keep the system afloat.
Building on the strong turnout, unions swiftly called for new protests and strikes on Tuesday when the British king is scheduled to visit Bordeaux on the second day of his trip to France. The heavy wooden door of the elegant Bordeaux City Hall was set afire and quickly destroyed Thursday evening by members of an unauthorized demonstration, the Sud Ouest newspaper said.
Nationwide, more than a million people joined protest marches held in cities and towns around the country Thursday, the ministry said.
Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin, visiting police headquarters Thursday night as fires still burned in some Paris neighborhoods, gave assurance that security “poses no problem” and the British monarch will be “welcomed and welcomed well.”
He said there was “enormous degrading” of public buildings and commerce Thursday, “far more important than in precedent demonstrations.”
“There are troublemakers, often extreme left, who want to take down the state and kill police and ultimately take over the institutions,” the minister said.
The demonstrations were held a day after Macron further angered his critics by standing strong on the retirement bill that his government forced through parliament without a vote.
Strikes upended travel as protesters blockaded train stations, Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris, refineries and ports.
In Paris, street battles between police and black-clad, masked groups who attacked at least two fast-food restaurants, a supermarket and a bank reflected intensifying violence and drew attention away from the tens of thousands of peaceful marchers.
Police, pelted by Molotov cocktails, objects and fireworks, charged multiple times and used tear gas to disperse rioters. A haze of tear gas fumes covered part of the Place de l'Opera, where demonstrators converged at the march's end. Darmanin said radicals numbered some 1,500.
Violence marred other marches, notably in the western cities of Nantes, Rennes and Lorient — where an administrative building was attacked and the courtyard of the police station was set afire and its windows broken — and in Lyon, in the southeast.