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French police clash with protesters during rallies over pension reform

Demonstrators march during a demonstration in Paris, on March 7, 2023. (Photo by AP)

Police have clashed with protesters in the French capital, Paris, amid a new round of rallies and strikes over President Emmanuel Macron's controversial planned pension reform. 

A series of violent clashes erupted as protesters marched along a boulevard in Paris against the French government's pension reform bill on Tuesday. Police fired tear gas to disperse the protesters.

Workers from different sectors have walked out of their jobs and held demonstrations in the capital and other cities across the country. Refineries have stopped fuel deliveries, most trains have come to a halt, and power production has decreased during the industrial action.

The call for strikes and demonstrations had been issued by all major unions. They have vowed to bring the country to a standstill.

Fuel deliveries have been blocked from all French refineries. There are eight refineries in mainland France and CGT union said strikers had blocked the exits to all of them.

Demonstrations were already forming early morning. A national road in the city of Rennes had been blocked by around 100 protesters since 1 am.

Tuesday marked the sixth day of strikes and protests since mid-January, with unions saying it would be the biggest yet. 

1.28 million people protested: Ministry 

An estimated 1.28 million people demonstrated nationwide on Tuesday against Macron's plans to push back the retirement age to 64, the interior ministry said.

The figure suggests the demonstrations were some of the biggest in decades, slightly higher than the 1.27 million estimated during a previous round of protests against the reform on January 31. 

The hard-left CGT union put the number of protesters at 3.5 million.

"I call on all the country's employees, citizens, and retirees who are against the pensions reform to come out and protest en masse," the head of the CFDT union Laurent Berger said on Monday. "The president cannot remain deaf," he added. "There is today a huge social movement... and it will need a political response."

One union leader, Emmanuel Lépine, said last week that the aim of blocking fuel deliveries was to "bring the French economy to its knees."

The controversial plan includes raising the retirement age from 62 to 64 and increasing the number of years during which workers have to make contributions for a full pension.

The president put the plan at the center of his re-election campaign last year, and his cabinet says the changes are essential to prevent the pension system from falling into deficit in the coming years.

But they face fierce resistance from both parliament and the public, with almost two in three people across the country supporting protests against it, according to a poll by the Elabe survey group published on Monday.

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