France has seen a second wave of protests and strikes against President Emmanuel Macron’s plans to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64.
Anti-government protests bigger than on the first day of action, on the ground media reported.
The number of marchers was expected to surpass the 1.12 million recorded 12 days ago.
Eight key unions took part in the strike, which disrupted schools, public transport and oil refineries.
The CGT trade union said half a million protesters had gathered in Paris alone, although authorities put the number at 87,000, and put the total number across France as high as 2.8 million.
But for all the mass mobilisation, it is still far from clear if the protesters can force Mr Macron to back down. The government can withstand any number of “days of action” like this so long as they take place along the predictable and orderly lines that they have so far.
Mr Macron’s government is pushing ahead with its pension age reforms in the face of opinion polls that suggest two-thirds of voters are opposed to the changes, which begin their passage through the National Assembly next week.
Without a majority in parliament, the government will have to rely on the right-wing Republicans for support as much as the ruling parties’ own MPs.
Hours before the main protest began in the Place d’Italie in central Paris, thousands of marchers turned out in Toulouse, Marseille and Nice in the south, and Saint Nazaire, Nantes and Rennes in the west.
A reported 11,000 police were deployed to cover the demonstrations taking place in more than 200 towns and cities. Some skirmishes were reported at the end of the Paris route in Place Vauban and 30 people were arrested. The interior minister praised police for their handling of the protests.
“Mr Macron is certain to lose,” far-left leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon told reporters in Marseille. “Nobody wants his reforms, and the more the days go by, the greater the opposition to them.”
Karima, 62, held up a placard in Paris highlighting that the government’s plans hurt women far more than men: “Lots of us already have broken careers and will have to work even longer than men in order to have a full pension.”
There was severe disruption to transport, with three-quarters of trains outside Paris cancelled and only two driverless metro lines operating normally in Paris. Large crowds were reported on one of the main overground lines in the capital.
Transport strikes no longer have the capacity to throttle France like they used to. The proportion of public sector workers on strike was actually lower on Tuesday than on 19 January – a sign, presumably, of a fear of lost wages.
The CGT union said at least three-quarters of workers had walked out at the big TotalEnergies oil refineries and fuel depots, although the company said the number was far lower. Power plants reported reduced production after workers went on strike at the main electricity company EDF.
One of the main teachers’ unions said some 55% of secondary school teachers had walked out, although the government said the figure was just over a quarter. High school pupils staged protests outside some schools and students said they would occupy Sciences Po university in Paris in support of the strikers.
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