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Teargas and pan bans as Macron faces fresh pension anger

Teargas fired as Macron faces more hostile crowds in rural France
Source: Video Screenshot

French police fired teargas Thursday in a village in southern France to keep angry protesters away from President Emmanuel Macron, who was the target of chants and heckles for a second day over his unpopular pension reform.

After facing hostile voters on Wednesday in eastern Alsace, the 45-year-old head of state travelled to the southern Herault region on Thursday to discuss education.

“I’m not going to resign, I promise you,” the 45-year-old told a woman who urged him to step down over the pension reform, which was signed into law last week after three months of mass protests and strikes.

“You couldn’t give a damn about what people want,” she replied.

Macron’s trips outside Paris are intended to signal his desire to turn the page on the pensions changes and demonstrate that he is not hiding from voters, many of whom have been outraged by the way the legislation was passed.

Supporters are hoping that the sight of the former investment banker being berated might serve as a pressure valve, helping release some of the pent-up frustration over a change opposed by two thirds of the country.

“Even when he’s getting shouted at in the street, in the end people say ‘at least he’s getting stuck in’,” a ruling party MP told AFP this week on condition of anonymity.

But a poll by Odoxa-Backbone Consulting, published Thursday by Le Figaro newspaper, made grim reading for the government.

It suggested that 59 percent of people thought Macron was wrong to want to move on to issues other than pensions, and only 22 percent of people thought the president had been convincing in a national address on Monday night.

Teachers’ pay

Saying he wanted to “acknowledge and pay teachers better”, the under-fire president announced on Thursday in the village of Ganges that they would receive between 100-230 euros ($110-250) more a month after tax from September.

A meeting with parents and teachers had to be moved outside when workers from the hard-left CGT trade union cut electricity to the Louise-Michel school as a form of protest.

In the run up to his speech, police fired teargas when hundreds of people shouting “Macron, resign!” and blowing whistles tried to advance towards the school.

Some of them threw eggs and tomatoes at security forces.

Local authorities also announced a ban on “portable sound equipment” which a spokesman said was meant to target amplifiers and speakers.

But the regional head of the CGT union, Mathieu Guy, told AFP that protesters had also been prevented from entering the secure area close to the school with saucepans as well as local flutes, known as “fifres”.

Macron’s left-wing political opponents urged their supporters to bash pans during Macron’s televised address to the nation on Monday evening and the age-old protest tactic has become an audible sign of discontent at Macron’s policies.

“At my home, saucepans and eggs are for cooking,” Macron quipped to a local opposition MP on Thursday who reminded him about the protests.

Lid on the pans

The apparent pan ban led to ridicule on Thursday, with Communist party spokesman Ian Brossat saying he “couldn’t wait for the legislation which will ban the sale of saucepans.”

“Is it possible to leave a democratic crisis behind by banning saucepans?” asked leading Greens MP Sandrine Rousseau.

Banging saucepans in France is thought to hark back to a Middle Ages ritual in which villagers would seek to humiliate an ill-matched marriage — generally a widower to a much younger bride — with a concert of saucepans, or “casseroles” as they are known in French.

It took a political turn in the 1830s France after the July Revolution that led to the abdication of King Charles X.

Speaking to voters on Wednesday, Macron argued again that raising the retirement age from 62 to 64 was necessary to help France reduce its public spending and bring the country into line with its European neighbours.

Demonstrators also forced their way into the headquarters of the LVMH luxury goods empire last Thursday.

Some rail workers also went on strike again on Thursday, forcing the cancellation of one in five regional trains and some commuter services.

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Agence France-Presse (AFP) is a French international news agency headquartered in Paris, France. Founded in 1835 as Havas, it is the world's oldest news agency.

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