WORLD

In Macron’s France, streets and fields seethe with protest

Mar 26, 2023, 11:27 PM

FILE - Protesters march, with the Pantheon monument in background, during a demonstration in Paris,...

FILE - Protesters march, with the Pantheon monument in background, during a demonstration in Paris, on March 7, 2023. French President Emmanuel Macron has ignited a firestorm of anger with unpopular pension reforms that he rammed through parliament. Young people, some of them first-time demonstrators, are joining protests against him. Violence is also picking up. (AP Photo/Aurelien Morissard, File)
Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

(AP Photo/Aurelien Morissard, File)

PARIS (AP) — A big day has come for French high school student Elisa Fares. At age 17, she is taking part in her first protest.

In a country that taught the world about people power with its revolution of 1789 — and a country again seething with anger against its leaders — graduating from bystander to demonstrator is a generations-old rite of passage. Fares looks both excited and nervous as she prepares to march down Paris streets where people for centuries have similarly defied authority and declared: “Non!”

Two friends, neither older than 18 but already protest veterans whose parents took them to demonstrations when they were little, are showing Fares the ropes. They’ve readied eyedrops and gas masks in case police fire tear gas — as they have done repeatedly in recent weeks.

“The French are known for fighting and we’ll fight,” says one of the friends, Coline Marionneau, also 17. “My mother goes to a lot of demonstrations … She says if you have things to say, you should protest.”

For French President push the legal retirement age from 62 to 64.

Furious not just with the prospect of working for longer but also with the way Macron imposed it, his opponents have switched to full-on disobedience mode. They’re regularly striking and demonstrating and threatening to make his second and final term as president even more difficult than his first. It, too, was rocked by months of protests — often violent — by so-called yellow vest campaigners against social injustice.

Fares, the first-time protester, said her mother had been against her taking to the streets but has now given her blessing.

“She said that if I wanted to fight, she wouldn’t stop me,” the teen says.

Critics accuse Macron of effectively ruling by decree, likening him to France’s kings of old. Their reign finished badly: In the French Revolution, King Louis XVI ended up on the guillotine. There’s no danger of that happening to Macron. But hobbled in parliament and contested on the streets piled high with reeking garbage uncollected by striking workers, he’s being given a tough lesson, again, about French people power. Freshly scrawled slogans in Paris reference 1789.

So drastically has Macron lost the initiative that he was King Charles III. Germany, not France, will now get the honor of being the first overseas ally to host Charles as monarch.

The France leg of Charles’ tour would have coincided with a new round of strikes and demonstrations planned for Tuesday that are again likely to mobilize many hundreds of thousands of protesters. Macron said the royal visit likely would have become their target, which risked creating a “detestable situation.”

Encouraged by that victory, the protest movement is plowing on and picking up new recruits, including some so young that it will be many decades before they’ll be directly impacted by the pushed-back retirement age. Their involvement is a worrisome development for Macron, because it suggests that protests are evolving, broadening from workplace and retirement concerns to a more generalized malaise with the president and his governance.

fought pitched battles over the weekend in rural western France, resulting in dozens of injuries. Officers fired more than 4,000 nonlethal dispersion grenades in fending off hundreds of protesters who rained down rocks, powerful fireworks and gasoline bombs on police lines.

“Anger and resentment,” says former President François Hollande, Macron’s predecessor, “is at a level that I have rarely seen.”

For Fares, whose first demonstration was a peaceful protest in Paris this weekend, the final straw was Macron’s decision to not let legislators vote on his retirement reform, because he wasn’t sure of winning a majority for it. Instead, he ordered his prime minister to skirt parliament by using a special constitutional power to ram the bill through.

It was the 11th time that Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne had to resort to the so-called Article 49.3 power in just 10 months — a telling sign of Macron’s fragility since he lost his parliamentary majority in an election last June.

“It’s an attack on democracy,” Fares said. “It annoyed me too much.”

Her friend Luna Dessommes, 18, added hopefully: “We have to use the movement to politicize more and more young people.”

At age 76, veteran protester Gilbert Leblanc has been through it all before. He was a yellow vest; by his count, he took part in more than 220 of their protests in Macron’s first term, rallying to the cry that the former banker was too pro-business and “the president of the rich.”

Long before that, Leblanc cut his teeth in seminal civil unrest that reshaped France in May 1968. He says that when he tells awe-struck young protesters that he was a “soixante-huitard” — a ’68 veteran — they “want to take selfies with me.”

This winter, he has kept his heating off, instead saving the money for train fares to the capital, so he can protest every weekend, he said.

“My grandfather who fought in World War I, got the war medal. He would rise from his grave if he saw me sitting at home, in my sofa, not doing anything,” Leblanc said.

“Everything we’ve obtained has been with our tears and blood.”

World

Associated Press

Microsoft users worldwide report widespread outages affecting banks, airlines and broadcasters

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Microsoft users worldwide, including banks and airlines, reported widespread outages on Friday, hours after the technology company said it was gradually fixing an issue affecting access to Microsoft 365 apps and services. The cause, exact nature and scale of the outage was unclear. Microsoft appeared to suggest in its X […]

13 hours ago

Associated Press

Espionage trial of US journalist Evan Gershkovich in Russia reaches closing arguments

YEKATERINBURG, Russia (AP) — Court officials said closing arguments began Friday in the trial of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, who faces charges of spying that he, the Journal and the U.S. government have vehemently denied. U.S. officials and The Wall Street Journal have denounced the trial that began last month as a sham […]

15 hours ago

FILE - President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus gives a speech during a military parade in Minsk, ...

Associated Press

Leader of Belarus marks 30 years in power after crushing all dissent and cozying up to Moscow

TALLINN, Estonia (AP) — For three decades, European leaders have come and gone by the dozens, but Alexander Lukashenko remains in absolute control of Belarus. His longevity is due to a mixture of harshly silencing all dissent, reverting to Soviet-style economic controls and methods, and cozying up to Russia, even as he sometimes flirted with […]

17 hours ago

Associated Press

US Treasury sanctions Sierra Leone man for allegedly smuggling migrants into the United States

MEXICO CITY (AP) — The U.S. Treasury Department announced sanctions Thursday on a man from Sierra Leone for allegedly smuggling thousands of migrants from Asia and Africa into the United States. The ring allegedly run by Abdul Karim Conteh provided false documents and drove migrants to the border and offered advice on how to cross, […]

1 day ago

Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland reacts as he walks from the 18th green following his opening round...

Associated Press

McIlroy, DeChambeau stumble badly out of the gates at British Open

TROON, Scotland (AP) — So much for the British Open being one last stand for Rory McIlroy in the majors this year. His best hope now is getting beyond one more day. And he has company from U.S. Open champion Bryson DeChambeau. The protagonists from Pinehurst No. 2 were no match for a wind that […]

1 day ago

FILE - A brigade from the Electric Power Authority repairs distribution lines damaged by Hurricane ...

Associated Press

US announces $325 million in funding to boost Puerto Rico solar projects as power outages persist

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — The U.S. government announced Thursday that $325 million in federal funds will be available for solar and battery storage installations across Puerto Rico as the U.S. territory struggles with chronic power outages. The program, funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, will target community centers and healthcare facilities, as […]

1 day ago

In Macron’s France, streets and fields seethe with protest