The streets of France are filled with trash and fury. Here’s why.

PARIS — Piles of stinky rubbish lay next to people sitting in posh Paris cafes, uncollected for days. Burnt cars and burnt tires litter some roads in the French capital.

Paris is no stranger to political and popular unrest, but in recent days thousands of people have taken to the streets and stormed police barricades, facing tear gas and water cannons in answer.

Protesters across the country are angry at President Emmanuel Macron’s long-promised plans to raise the national retirement age from 62 to 64 during an acute cost-of-living crisis, exacerbated by the spiraling economy. ‘inflation.

The French government says that with life expectancy rising, reform is essential to ensure the pension system remains intact. But critics of the policy are not convinced.

Their fury only increased after Macron, facing a divided parliament lacking the support of the right-wing Republican Party, ordered Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne on Thursday to invoke Article 49.3 of the Constitution, allowing legislation from being passed without a vote of lawmakers.

Thousands of people gathered in Place de la Concorde, which faces the National Assembly building, on Thursday, and sporadic demonstrations persisted into the night. Large plumes of black smoke rose early Friday over Gare de Lyon, a busy railway station on the east side of the city.

Demonstrations also took place in many cities, including Rennes in the west and the southern port city of Marseille.

Some 310 people were arrested, Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin said.

The next national day of strikes – the eighth in the past three months – is scheduled for next Thursday, the unions said.

Meanwhile, the piles of rubbish littering the famous streets of Paris are a very visible – and poignant – symbol of the anger felt by public sector workers against pension schemes. The town hall of Paris estimates that there are around 13,000 tonnes of it in the streets.

The city’s huge tourist economy has continued regardless, with tours of major sites taking place. But the experiment had additional and unwanted features.

French President Emmanuel Macron is under fire from trade unions for abandoning his flagship retirement age reform.Michel Euler / AP

Doris Arseguel, guiding a small group of Brazilian tourists through the narrow cobbled streets of the 5th arrondissement littered with rubbish, told them to watch out for rats, who are having a blast.

“It’s very difficult to show the beauty of Paris to tourists with all the garbage and the barricades,” Arseguel, 53, told NBC News. “The beauty of Paris is completely masked now. It has become too much.

The anti-reform cause has also been enthusiastically taken up by young people, who have to work longer under stricter financial conditions.

At the prestigious Henri-IV high school in central Paris, a hundred students blocked the entrance on Friday morning to protest against the policy of Macron, an illustrious former student.

A stone’s throw from the 18th-century Pantheon, the monument that houses the remains of French philosophers Voltaire and Rousseau, students clapped and clapped wildly, chanting: “Macron, you’re done!” Your high school is on the street!

“I want to make my voice heard because it’s the only way to show that we don’t agree with what is happening. It’s important for young people to say what they feel because without a voice you don’t count,” said Emma Mendzesel, 16.

Soren Lafarge, also 16, said students were making their voices heard despite not having the right to strike or vote in elections.

“We are here to show that we support the movement against the reform of people’s pensions and that we are all against this kind of system of democracy where you can pass a law without a vote and that we are advocating for better democracy”, a he declared. .

This week’s civil unrest was the capital’s worst since protests by the gillets jaunes, or yellow vests, in 2018 and 2019, which were sparked largely by the cost of gas but turned into a populist movement against the centrist and technocratic government of Macron.

Those protests ended in a partial reversal, with Macron scrapping a carbon tax hike. But he is much less likely to overturn the retirement age plan, which was a key manifesto commitment before his re-election last summer.

But the saga is far from over.

Opposition lawmakers say they will table motions of no confidence in Prime Minister Borne, who pushed through the reform, calling on him to resign. Parliamentary votes on this are expected this weekend or Monday.

But even if they succeed in impeaching her, Macron is unlikely to change course, according to Rainbow Murray, an expert on French politics at Queen Mary University of London.

“Macron is safe, he is elected for a five-year term. But his reputation is tarnished. It’s obviously bad and not what he wanted. He wanted a parliamentary majority but couldn’t get it,” Murray said.

Borne, she added, “risks being the scapegoat to cleanse himself of all this”.

Unlike most political leaders in such a feverish situation, Macron might not be worried at all, Murray said.

“He’s in a good position to do that: he’s a second-term president, he can’t run for a third, and unlike almost every president before him, he doesn’t care about legacy in the same way. of his party because his party was created around him — his party is him, she says.

“I’m sure people in his party are concerned about that, but he doesn’t have the loyalty to the bigger picture like the others,” Murray said. “In a way, he has political capital to burn, and he is burning it.

Nancy Ing and Bill O’Reilly reported from Paris, and Patrick Smith from London.

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