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Mass protest in France over plans to increase retirement age

Trains and flights were canceled in France, while primary schools shutdown and thousands of police officers were deployed as labor unions held nationwide strikes to protest the government’s plan to raise the retirement age for most workers.

Protests in major French cities, including Paris, Marseille, Toulouse, Nantes and Nice, brought transport services to a standstill on Thursday.

The Eiffel Tower was closed to visitors, and the country’s energy network was also under strain.

Eight of the biggest unions had called for a “first day of strikes and protests” against pension reforms unveiled by President Emmanuel Macron’s government.

The legislation will require French citizens to work until 64, from 62 currently, to qualify for a full state pension.

According to French education ministry More than 40% of primary school teachers and more than one third of high school teachers are on strike.

France’s Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin told French radio station RTL on Wednesday that over 10,000 police and military personnel will be deployed to the protests, including 3,500 officers stationed in Paris.

Macron’s proposed pension reforms come as workers in France, as elsewhere, are being squeezed by rising food and energy bills.

Thousands took part in mass demonstrations on the streets of Paris last year protesting the cost of living, and strikes by workers demanding higher pay caused fuel pumps to run dry across the country a few months ago.

The French government insists that increasing the retirement age is necessary to tackle a pension funding deficit.

France spent nearly 14% of GDP on state pensions in 2018, which is more than most other countries, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Government spokesperson Olivier Veran told journalists on Wednesday that 40% of French workers will be able to retire before 64 under the proposed regime because of exceptions for those who started work early or who have physically taxing jobs.

In Europe and in many other developed economies, the age at which full pension benefits vest is 65 and increasingly moving towards 67.

Overhauling pensions has long been a controversial issue in France, with street protests halting reform efforts in 1995, and successive governments facing stiff resistance to changes that eventually passed in 2004, 2008 and 2010.

An earlier attempt by Macron to revamp France’s pensions system was met with nationwide strikes in 2019 before being abandoned because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Writing by Tersoo Nicholas