France engulfed by 'climate of violence' – Ex-President attacks Macron over pension crisis
Jan. 22, 2020
FORMER French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Monday said a dark cloud of violence was hanging over France, as the protest movement against the government’s pension reform takes an increasingly radical turn.
While the strike action against the centrist government’s planned overhaul of the convoluted retirement system has lost steam, opposition to the reform is far from over.
“A divided Republic always falls like a rotten fruit,” Mr Sarkozy said in a speech to fellow conservatives, as he denounced the current “climate of violence” in France.
“The scenes of violence we have witnessed in recent weeks demean this country,” he continued, as he slammed those who “tarnish” the country’s image by “lighting fires of hatred and discord”.
The government warned this week that agitators hell-bent on violence were hijacking the protest movement against the pension overhaul that has rattled the country for weeks, after a fire on Saturday damaged a top Paris restaurant patronised by President Emmanuel Macron.
Marlène Schiappa, the secretary of state for gender equality, said the blaze “probably” resulted from a criminal act as she deplored a climate of “hate and of violence that is quite incredible”.
“Seditious groups want the law of ‘might is right’ to reign, to impose violence on all people who think differently from them,” Ms Schiappa told the news channel BFMTV. “It is very alarming and unworthy of a democracy like France.”
After six weeks of union-led transport strikes and mass protests against government plans to reboot the unwieldy system, there are growing signs of splits within the movement.
As some strikers return to work and train services that have been badly disrupted by the walkouts resume, more radical protesters are trying to inject fresh momentum into the pensions battle.
A protest march through Paris on Saturday ended with police firing tear gas and using a water cannon to disperse rioters.
“The government has not won its battle against unions. It has deepened the divide between itself and the people,” far-right MEP Jordan Bardella said on Monday, adding that the dispute over pensions would “follow Mr Macron until the end of his mandate”.
“Violence is the cancer of democracy. While I firmly condemn all forms of violence, Mr Macron’s refusal to listen to citizens’ anger has increased tensions,” Mr Bardella, vice-president of the populist Rassemblement national (RN) party, told France 2 television.
Unions are protesting the plan for a single, points-based pension scheme that would do away with 42 special regimes that offer early retirement and other benefits to a range of employees, mainly in the public sector.
Moderate unions dropped their strike call after the Macron administration scrapped a controversial proposal to push back the age for a full pension from 62 to 64.
But hardline unions still want the government to withdraw the reform altogether and have called for another day of nationwide protests on Friday.
The government says its proposed changes will make the pension system fairer and more sustainable, but critics argue it will force millions of people to work longer for a smaller retirement payout.
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