WATCH: Protests in France as pension reform bill forced through National Assembly without a vote
Fiery protests raged across France Thursday night and into Friday morning after President Emmanuel Macron ordered his prime minister to wield a special constitutional power that skirts parliament to force through a highly unpopular bill raising the retirement age from 62 to 64 without a vote.
At the Place de la Concorde across from the National Assembly in Paris where the legislative drama unfolded, thousands of protesters gathered and lit a bonfire. The demonstrators included members of workers’ unions who have been holding strikes and marches against the pension reform since January.
Riot police moved in to clear the area as night fell, sending small groups into nearby streets where they set garbage on fire.
At least 120 people were detained, police said.
Similar scenes repeated themselves in numerous other cities, from Rennes and Nantes in the east to Lyon and the southern port city of Marseille, where shop windows and bank fronts were smashed.
Radical leftist groups were blamed for at least some of the destruction.
The unions announced new rallies and protest marches in the days ahead. “This retirement reform is brutal, unjust, unjustified for the world of workers,” they declared.
Sanitation workers have been among those participating in the strikes, which have led to piles of garbage in the streets of Paris.
Macron has made the proposed pension changes the key priority of his second term, arguing that reform is needed to keep the pension system from diving into deficit as France, like many richer nations, faces lower birth rates and longer life expectancy.
The president decided to invoke the special power during a Cabinet meeting at the Elysee presidential palace, just a few minutes before the scheduled vote in France’s lower house of parliament, because he had no guarantee of a majority.
Speaking above the cries of protesting lawmakers in the National Assembly Thursday, Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne acknowledged that Macron’s unilateral move will trigger quick motions of no-confidence in his government.
Marine Le Pen said her far-right National Rally party would do just that, and Communist lawmaker Fabien Roussel said such a motion is “ready” on the left.