French police arrest 217 amid labour reform protests

French police arrest 217 amid labour reform protests

French police on Thursday evening arrested 217 people during a protest in Paris against a controversial pension reform pushed through parliament without a final vote in the lower house, local media reported.

Broadcaster France Info cited police sources as saying that 217 people were arrested as riots broke out on the Place de la Concorde in the centre of Paris near the meeting place of the lower house of parliament.

According to media reports, riot police used water cannons and tear gas to clear the square. Among other things, demonstrators set fire to wooden pallets and threw objects at police officers. Some 6,000 opponents of the pension reform had gathered in the square when clashes broke out.

On Thursday afternoon the government decided at the last minute to implement President Emmanuel Macron's most important reform project - which foresees the gradual increase of the retirement age from 62 to 64 - and bypass the lower house of parliament, the National Assembly, where the result was too close to call.

There is a special article in the French constitution which allows for this.

The reform can still be overturned by a vote of no confidence in the government.

Protests also broke out in other French cities including Marseille, Dijon, Nantes, Rennes, Rouen, Grenoble, Toulouse and Nice. Unions called for a new nationwide day of strikes and protests for next Thursday. Millions of people had already taken to the streets against the reform proposal.

Meanwhile, Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin instructed police to put in place "enhanced protective measures" for members of parliament in the face of the ongoing protests.

The parliamentarians are exposed to threats, insults and damage to property, France Info cited the minister as saying in a letter to the prefect of police of Paris, the prefect of police of Bouches-du-Rhône, the director of the national police and the director of the national gendarmerie.