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May Day rallies: France pension reforms spark anger as tens of thousands protest after election

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By Euronews  with AFP, AP
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Demonstrators hold bouquet with sign reading  "Work tires even the donkeys, Let's stay beavers" during a May Day demonstration march.
Demonstrators hold bouquet with sign reading "Work tires even the donkeys, Let's stay beavers" during a May Day demonstration march.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Lewis Joly

Tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets across France on Sunday to mark May Day after the presidential election last week.

Labour unions and student organisations led protests against newly re-elected President Emmanuel Macron with demands for higher wages, support for public services and more climate-friendly policies.

Some 250 marches and protests were held around France, with many people angry in particular at the president's plan to raise France's retirement age from 62 to 65. Macron says that's the only way the government can continue to provide good retirement benefits.

In the capital, clashes broke out between young people dressed in black and Paris' police with many shop windows destroyed and fires breaking out. Dozens of people were arrested.

Demonstrators broke bank windows and wrote anticapitalist messages on a McDonald's and police fired tear gas.

Interior minister Gérald Darmanin said that "thugs" were committing "unacceptable violence" and expressed his "full support for police".

AP Photo/Lewis Joly
Demonstrators stand next to garbage and materials on fire during a May Day demonstration in Paris, France.AP Photo/Lewis Joly

The May Day protests also come as left-wing parties in France aim to strike an agreement ahead of the June legislative elections following the defeat of leftist candidates in the first round of the election.

In Paris, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the hard left leader who came third in the recent presidential election, called for an agreement between left-wing parties. 

“May Day is the time to rally for a reduction in working time. That reduction signifies one key thing — that workers should be getting a larger share of the wealth,” Mélenchon said, condemning the violence at the Paris march, which he said overshadows the concerns of workers.

The CGT labour union claimed that 50,000 protesters were present in the capital city. Thousands also protested in other large cities across France such as Marseille, Bordeaux, Toulouse, Lyon and Strasbourg, according to police.

May Day gatherings take place across Europe

Protests were planned across Europe to mark May Day, with police detaining 164 people in Istanbul.

In Italy, after a two-year pandemic lull, an outdoor mega-concert was set for Rome with rallies and protests in cities across the country.

Besides work, peace was an underlying theme with calls for an end to Russia's war in Ukraine.

Italy’s three main labour unions were focusing their main rally in the hilltop town of Assisi, a frequent destination for peaceful protests. This year’s slogan is “Working for peace.”

“It’s a May Day of social and civil commitment for peace and labour,” said the head of Italy’s CISL union, Daniela Fumarola.