PARIS (AP) — French citizens angry at President Emmanuel Macron's pension reforms engaged in scattered protest actions Friday, as the ongoing unrest across the country persuaded officials to postpone a planned state visit by Britain's King Charles III.
Demonstrators had demanded that Charles cancel his trip, which was scheduled to start Sunday. The protests and labor strikes against Macron's decision to raise France's retirement age from 62 to 64 already had promised to impact his visit, with workers refusing to roll out the red carpet for the king's arrival.
French President Emmanuel Macron said “common sense and friendship” required delaying the king's visit, adding that it likely would have become a protest target and created a “detestable situation.”
“We would not be serious … to make a state visit in the middle of protests,” the French leader said, speaking at a news conference after a summit in Brussels.
Macron condemned the violent behavior that has taken place at some of the protests against his plan to raise France’s retirement age from 62 to 64, saying “violence has no place in a democracy.”
Although no major protests were planned for Friday, train traffic was slowed, rows of trucks blocked access to Marseille’s port for several hours and debris still littered the streets of Paris following the previous day’s mass demonstrations.
Over 450 protesters were arrested in Paris and beyond as some 300 demonstrations on Thursday drew more than a million people nationwide. Polls show that most French people oppose having to work two more years before retiring, which Macron says is necessary to keep the pension system afloat.
Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said 441 police officers and gendarmes were injured as violence marred some marches. He added that 1,000 trash bins were set on fire in the French capital; overflowing garbage cans have become a symbol of the protests during a weeks-long strike by sanitation workers.
Charles and Queen Consort Camilla planned to visit both France and Germany during the king’s first trip abroad as Britain’s monarch. He still plans to go to Germany, but British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s office said another date would be found for the French leg.
“The king and queen consort’s state visit to France has been postponed,” the prime minister’s Downing Street office said. “This decision was taken with the consent of all parties, after the president of France asked the British government to postpone the visit.”
Charles had been scheduled to visit the city of Bordeaux on the second day of his trip to France. The heavy wooden door of the elegant Bordeaux City Hall was destroyed by fire Thursday night by people taking part in an unauthorized demonstration.
Mayor Pierre Hurmic said he had “difficulty understanding the interest of such acts of vandalism.”
Before the king's visit was postponed, Hurmic said he hoped it wouldn't get canceled.
“I hope that we do not give this gift to the thugs,” he said.
Fires in Paris, that were intentionally lit in narrow or inaccessible alleys on Thursday night, alarmed both city officials and residents. Firefighters and residents worked together to tame the flames that rose to the second story of an apartment building in the chic Palais Royal area.
Oil refineries have been another protest target. On Friday, emboldened protesters headed to the Fos-sur-mer oil depot near Marseille to stop trucks from entering and leaving. However, fuel supplies to Paris from the large Gonfreville-L’Orcher refinery in Normandy resumed Friday after police intervened, French Energy Transition Minister Agnes Pannier-Runacher said.
Fearing disruptions in coming days as actions continue, France’s Civil Aviation Authority has requested the cancellation of one-third of flights at Paris’ second airport, Orly, on Sunday, and 20% canceled on Monday.
Unions have called for new protests and strikes on Tuesday.
The Associated Press