Unrest in France: Youth take to streets, riots over retirement age turn violent
FRANCE — A proposed bill raising retirement age from 60 to 62 has been met with great opposition, with masked youth joining in protests that have turned violent just outside of Paris and in the southeastern city of Lyon.
UPDATE: Violence has increased – click here for AP article.
The youth, dressed in black, torched cars, smashed storefronts, and threw up roadblocks Tuesday. They clashed with riot police across France as protests over raising retirement age took a radical turn.
Things were so bad that hundreds of flights were canceled.
Oil refinery strikes and blockages emptied the pumps at nearly a third of the nation’s gas stations leaving drivers desperate and searching for gas.
If the bill is approved it will raise the retirement age from 60 to 62 to prevent the pension system from going bankrupt as citizens live longer and a diminishing pool of young workers pay into the system.
Protesters want to stop this bill – unions claim the move would erode France’s near-sacred tradition of generous social benefits that include long vacations, contracts that make it hard for employers to lay off workers and a state-subsidized health care system – in favor of “American-style capitalism.”
The AP reported that some 1.1 million people joined 260 protest marches across France on Tuesday, according to the Interior Ministry, though trade unions put the figure at three times that.
Youth threw stones at police which prompted police to use teargas. One Associated Press photographer was knocked off his motorbike and punched by the youths.
The most violent clashes occurred in Lyon, where rampaging youth torched garbage cans and cars and overturned bus stations. Numerous shops were pillaged. A second AP photographer was slightly injured.
In the Mediterranean port city of Marseille a strike by garbage collectors left the streets buried in heaps of trash.
“Transport, the rubbish, the nurses, the teachers, the workers, the white collar, everyone who works, we should all be united. If there is no transport today, we’re not all going to die from it,” said Francoise Michelle, a 55-year-old Marseille resident.
The bill generated a series of nationwide protests that began in early September, and those protests have been largely peaceful.
Another highly unpopular labor bill proposed in 2006 was abandoned when similar protests by students took place.
President Nicolas Sarkozy vowed Tuesday to guarantee public order in the face of “troublemakers.” The Associated Press reported that the government announced a plan to pool gasoline stocks so that dry stations can be filled.
“There are people who want to work, the immense majority, and they cannot be deprived of gasoline,” Sarkozy said.
Thursday students plan a day of mobilization with a demonstration in Paris hours before the Senate is to vote on the retirement measure.
“The government will continue to dislodge protesters blocking the fuel depots. … No one has the right to take hostage an entire country, its economy and its jobs,” Prime Minister Francois Fillon said after meeting with oil industry executives.
While street protests is nothing new in France, the current strife is particularly worrisome because it has touched the vital energy sector and is drawing often volatile youth into the mix.
Source: Q13 Fox News,