PARIS (Reuters) – Hundreds of thousands of people prepared to strike and demonstrate in France on Thursday after President Emmanuel Macron pledged to press ahead with reforming his unpopular pension system, despite mounting anger across the country.
Protests against the legislation, which raises the retirement age from two years to 64, have drawn huge crowds at union-organised rallies since January.
Trade unions said Thursday’s ninth nationwide labor day would draw huge crowds against what they called Macron’s “contempt” and “lies”.
Macron drew an angry response from unions and opposition parties on Wednesday when he rejected their calls for him to heed growing public anger.
“The best response we can give to the president is that there are millions of people on strike and on the streets,” said Felipe Martinez, who leads the hardline CGT union.
Thursday’s strike will see trains seriously disrupted, with airports also hit, teachers among many professions quit their jobs, while strikes continue in oil depots and among rubbish collectors.
Most of the protests have been peaceful, but anger has escalated since the government pushed the bill through parliament without a vote last week.
The past seven nights have seen spontaneous demonstrations in Paris and other cities with rubbish bins on fire and clashes with police.
Speaking on Wednesday, Macron stuck to his guns, saying the new law was necessary and would come into force later this year.
He rejected calls to sack his prime minister, Elizabeth Bourne, who had been at the forefront of pension reform, and sought to turn the page, tasking her with expanding her parliamentary majority and re-engaging with unions.
“He put more explosives in an already well-lit inferno,” said PS President Olivier Faure.
The latest wave of protests represents the most serious challenge to the president’s authority since the “yellow vest” revolution four years ago. Opinion polls show that a wide majority of the French oppose the pension law and the government’s decision to pass it in Parliament without a vote.
Reporting by John Irish; Editing by David Gregorio
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