French protesters storm headquarters of luxury giant LVMH
Hundreds of thousands of people took part in a fresh round of demonstrations across France on Thursday over government plans to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64, a day before a crucial court ruling on the constitutionality of the divisive law.
Protesters in Paris forced their way into the headquarters of luxury giant LVMH, on the day shares in the company – which owns brands such as Louis Vuitton and Moët – jumped to a record high.
“If Macron wants to find money to finance the pension system, he should come here to find it,” Fabien Villedieu, a union leader, told CNN affiliate BFMTV outside the LVMH building.
Multiple flare ups have taken place throughout the day.
Police halted a protest in front of the Constitutional Council, France’s equivalent of the US supreme court, which will hand down a long-awaited ruling on the validity of the pension reform law on Friday. A ban on protests in the area is in place from Thursday evening until Saturday morning local time.
CNN teams on the ground witnessed protesters engaging in intense scuffles with police as smoke bombs, projectiles and tear gas were fired, before a group set off red flares outside the court building.
Violence also broke out at Paris’ Place de la Bastille as riot police clashed with angry protestors.
“At least a thousand radical individuals present at the forefront of the demonstration area tried on several occasions to commit acts of violence along the route and to hinder the smooth progress of the demonstration,” a spokesman for the Paris police said.
The police were also seen protecting the BHV department store by charging at protesters in the Rue de Rivoli in central Paris.
The police arrested 47 people in Paris and at least ten police officers were injured, according to Paris police prefecture.
Around 380,000 people attended the protests across France on Thursday, 42,000 of whom were in Paris, according to the latest figures from the French interior ministry.
The figure is down from last week’s 11th round of demonstrations which drew in crowds of approximately 570,000.
Police had been expecting further violent attacks that have been a visible, if minor, feature of the protests across France over the past two and a half months, with particular attention on so-called “black bloc” protesters, part of a radical fringe that has been present from the start of the country’s social upheaval.
France’s President Emmanuel Macron argues reforms are essential to rein in public finances, and has been standing firm, this week saying “the country must continue to move forward.”
Speaking at an incinerator picket line near Paris on Thursday morning, Sophie Binet, the new head of the GGT, one of France’s main unions, insisted: “As long as the pension reform is not withdrawn, the mobilization will continue one way or another.”
French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire defended his government’s contested pension reform plans to CNN on Thursday as “vital”, saying “we need to ensure to French citizens that there is a financial balance by 2030. This is the purpose of the reform.”
Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo voiced her support for the demonstrators before the new round of protests.
“On the eve of the decision of the constitutional council, I am once again supporting the mobilisations in Paris and everywhere in France,” Hidalgo tweeted.
“This reform is unjust and violent. The French have been asking for it to be withdrawn for months, the government has to hear them,” she wrote.
Friday’s ruling will be decisive on whether the protests will continue. The CFDT, France’s other main union, has been more amenable to a negotiated settlement.
Garbage is meanwhile also set to fill the streets of Paris once more as collectors and incinerator workers are on strike again, according to the CGT union.
This will be a rolling strike, the general secretary of the CGT union branch confirmed in a letter to the Paris mayor.
The previous near month-long strike, up until the end of March, had seen 10,000 tonnes of rubbish piled up across the capital at its worst.