Paris, Mar 23 (EFE).- France was bracing itself Thursday for hundreds of protests across the country against the government’s pension reforms.
Authorities expect between 600,000 and 800,000 people to take to the streets, and police have deployed 12,000 officers across the country.
The reforms, which were pushed through last week without a vote in parliament after the government used special constitutional powers, will raise the minimum retirement age by two years to 64.
Several clashes between protesters and police have been reported this week, especially in Paris.
French labor unions have now held nine rounds of strikes and protests since the reforms were announced in late January.
On Thursday, rail service and flights were severely affected by the strikes, which also saw staff in public transport, oil refineries, the energy industry, garbage collection and schools walk out.
Only half of France’s high-speed trains were running, while two-thirds of regional trains were canceled. Commuter services in the Paris region were also severely disrupted, with up to 80% cancellations on some lines.
Thousands of tons of rubbish are still piled up in the streets of some districts in Paris because of a garbage workers strike that has been dragging on for more than two weeks.
On Wednesday, Macron defiantly defended the reforms in a televised interview.
The president, who has been heavily criticized by union leaders and opposition parties for failing to listen to public sentiment, said his only mistake throughout the process had been “not managing to convince” the country of the need for pension reform.
The government says it is necessary to tackle France’s growing budget deficit, which is expected to reach 12.5 billion euros by 2030.
“Do they think I want this reform? No,” he said, insisting that options such as lowering pensions or raising taxes had been discarded.
He pointed out that the French government has faced union opposition every time that it has tried to introduce pension reforms, and insisted his cabinet would “assume” the consequences of the unpopular changes.
“Between the long-term polls and the general interest of the country, I choose the general interest of the country. And if that has consequences, I accept them,” Macron said. EFE