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Nationwide rally hits France as Macron insists on pension plans

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
A protester gives a heart-shaped object to French CGT union general secretary Philippe Martinez (C) during a rally, in Paris on March 11, 2023. (Photo by AFP)

Protesters took to the streets in France for a seventh day of demonstrations against President Emmanuel Macron's pension reforms as the Senate resumed debate on the plan.

According to interior ministry figures, up to one million people were expected to take part in over 200 marches throughout the country on Saturday in an effort to keep up to pressure on Macron’s government to withdraw the reform, whose key measure is to increase the minimum retirement age from 62 to 64 years.

Demonstrations started at 10 a.m (0900 GMT) in the streets of major cities including Toulouse and Nice. A march in Paris is scheduled to start at 2 p.m.

"This is the final stretch," said Marylise Leon, deputy leader of the CFDT union. "The endgame is now," she added.

"When there are millions of people in the streets, when there are strikes and all we get from the other side is silence, people wonder: What more do we need to do to be heard?", said Philippe Martinez, boss of the hard-left CGT union.

"This country's leaders need to stop being in denial of this social movement," said CFDT head Laurent Berger on Saturday.

Police said they expect between 800,000 and one million people at 230 planned demonstrations across the nation, of which up to 100,000 were likely to march in Paris.

Saturday’s demonstrations come after Macron turned down urgent calls by unions to meet with him in a last-ditch attempt to get him to change his mind this week.

The president wrote in a letter to workers’ unions on Friday that the government needs to raise the retirement age in order to make the French pension system financially sustainable in the coming years.

Unions, however, demand the withdrawal of the bill as parliament debates the draft law, with the National Assembly and the Senate moving towards a final vote as early as this month.

Senators have to conclude their discussions until Sunday evening, and a commission is then to elaborate a final version of the draft law which will be submitted to both houses of parliament for a final vote.

Should the government fail to assemble a majority ahead of the vote, Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne could deploy a rarely-used constitutional tool, known as article 49/3, to push the legislation through without a vote.

On Tuesday, 1.28 million people took to the streets in demonstrations, the highest turnout since the start of the protest movement at the end of January, according to government figures. Unions estimated the total at 3.5 million people.

Unions have also called on several sectors of the French economy to join indefinite strikes; sectors like rail and air transport, power stations, natural gas terminals, and rubbish collection.

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