Thu, 08 Jun 2023

Violent Water Protests Latest to Rock France

Voice of America
26 Mar 2023, 10:37 GMT+10

SAINTE-SOLINE, France - French police clashed with protesters again Saturday, as campaigners sought to stop the construction of reservoirs in the southwest, the latest in a series of violent standoffs as social tensions erupt nationwide.

The violent scenes in Sainte-Soline in western France came after days of violent protests nationwide over President Emmanuel Macron's pension reform that prompted the cancellation of a visit by King Charles III of the United Kingdom.

The protest movement against the pension reform has turned into the biggest domestic crisis of Macron's second mandate, with daily clashes in the streets of Paris and other cities between police and protesters.

Several protesters and members of security forces were wounded in the clashes around Sainte-Soline as campaigners sought to stop the construction of reservoirs for the agricultural industry.

A long procession set off in the late morning - estimated at 6,000 people, according to local authorities, but about 25,000, according to the organizers.

'While the country is rising up to defend pensions, we will simultaneously stand up to defend water,' said the organizers gathering under the banner of 'Bassines non merci' ('No to reservoirs, thank you').

Around the construction site, defended by the police, violent clashes quickly broke out between the security forces and radical militants, AFP correspondents said.

Multiple projectiles and improvised explosives were thrown by protesters, with police responding with tear gas and water cannon.

Twenty-four members of the security forces were wounded, one very seriously, said Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin. Seven protesters were wounded, also one very seriously. Both seriously wounded individuals were evacuated by helicopter.

'This eruption of violence is completely inexcusable,' Darmanin told reporters in Paris, blaming elements on the 'extreme left and the ultra-left.'

Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne condemned an 'intolerable spiral of violence' at the protest.

Eleven people were detained after police seized weapons, including meat knives, as well as explosives.

Clash adds to nationwide tension

While not directly related to the anti-pensions reform campaign, the clashes over the water reservoir construction have added to tensions in an increasingly challenging situation for the government.

The cancellation of King Charles' state visit, which was to be his very first abroad as monarch, was a major embarrassment for Macron and acknowledgement of the seriousness of the situation. Instead, Germany will be Charles' first foreign destination as monarch.

After the worst clashes yet of the three-month movement on Thursday night, protest activity has been less intense in the last 24 hours.

But the government is bracing for another torrid day on Tuesday when unions are to hold another round of strikes and protests.

Uproar over the legislation to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64 was enflamed when Macron exercised a controversial executive power to push the plan through parliament without a vote last week.

The streets of the capital have also been strewn with rubbish because of a strike by waste collectors.

There has also been controversy over the tactics used by the French security forces to disperse the protests with The Council of Europe warning that sporadic violence in protests 'cannot justify excessive use of force.'

Macron has defiantly refused to offer concessions, saying in a televised interview Wednesday that the changes needed to 'come into force by the end of the year.'

The Le Monde daily said Macron's inflexibility was now worrying even 'his own troops' among the ruling party.

Leader's baby threatened

In a sign of the fevered atmosphere, the leader of Macron's faction in parliament, Aurore Berge, posted on Twitter a handwritten letter she received threatening her 4-month-old baby with physical violence, prompting expressions of solidarity across the political spectrum.

It remains unclear how the government will defuse the crisis, four years after the 'Yellow Vest' demonstrations rocked the country, with Borne under particular pressure.

'I will not give up on building compromises,' Borne told a conference on Saturday.

'I will not give up on acting. I am here to find agreements and carry out the transformations necessary for our country and for the French,' she said.

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