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Unrest in France prompts postponement of King Charles III visit

Violent pension reform protests in France led to the postponement Friday of King Charles III's trip to the country, highlighting the growing security and political problems faced by President Emmanuel Macron.

Unrest in France prompts postponement of King Charles III visit
Photo: Ian Vogler/AFP

The French president condemned the latest burst of violence overnight, while a human rights watchdog criticised the “excessive use of force” by police during recent demonstrations.

King Charles’ first foreign trip as monarch had been intended to highlight warming Franco-British relations. Instead, it has underlined the severity of demonstrations engulfing Britain’s neighbour just 10 months into Macron’s second term.

Uproar over legislation to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64 was enflamed when Macron exercised a controversial executive power to push the plan through parliament without a vote last week.

With fresh strikes expected next Tuesday on what would have been the second day of the king’s tour, Macron asked for the postponement of the royal visit, a UK government spokesperson said.

The decision was made “to welcome His Majesty King Charles III in conditions which reflect our friendly relations”, Macron’s office said.

Police arrested more than 450 people on Thursday, according to interior ministry figures.

In addition, 441 members of the security forces were injured on the most violent day of protests since the start of the year. More than 900 fires were lit around Paris, with anarchist groups blamed for setting uncollected rubbish ablaze and smashing shop windows, leading to frequent clashes with riot police.

But rights groups, magistrates and left-wing politicians have also denounced alleged police brutality in recent days. The Council of Europe — the continent’s leading human rights watchdog —
warned that sporadic acts of violence “cannot justify excessive use of force by agents of the state” or “deprive peaceful protesters of their right to freedom of assembly”.

Over a million

More than a million people marched in France on Thursday, according to official estimates, as the protest movement was reinvigorated by Macron’s refusal to back down over the past week.

In the northeast city of Rennes, regional officials denied claims by union leaders that police had deliberately targeted them with tear gas and a water cannon during Thursday’s protests.

In Bordeaux, protesters set fire to the ancient wooden entrance to the city hall on Thursday. King Charles had been set to visit the southwestern city on Tuesday, after a day in Paris.

With protesters threatening to disrupt the royal visit and the streets of the capital strewn with rubbish because of a strike by waste collectors, some feel the trip’s postponement will avoid further embarrassment for France.

Speaking to reporters during a trip to Brussels on Friday, Macron said discussions over rescheduling the visit could take place in the coming months. “We have proposed that at the beginning of the summer, depending on our respective agendas, we can arrange a new state visit,” he said. He also insisted that Paris “would not give in to the violence”

“I condemn the violence and offer my full support to the security forces who worked in an exemplary manner.”

Way out?

It remains unclear how the government will defuse a crisis that comes just four years after the “Yellow Vest” demonstrations rocked the country.

“Everything depends on one man who is a prisoner of the political situation,” political scientist Bastien Francois from the Sorbonne University in Paris told AFP.

The leader of the moderate CFDT union, Laurent Berger, said Friday he had spoken to an aide to the president and suggested a pause on implementing the pensions law for six months while opening a channel for negotiations.

“It’s the moment to say ‘listen, let’s put things on pause, let’s wait six months’,” Berger told RTL radio. “It would calm things down.”

While France’s Constitutional Court still needs to give the final word on the reform, Macron said in a televised interview Wednesday that the changes needed to “come into force by the end of the year”.

Blockades of oil refineries by striking workers continued on Friday, but the energy transition ministry said it had requisitioned enough workers to restart production at one of these and resume fuel supply to the capital.

About 15 percent of gas stations were still out of at least one fuel by Friday morning, according to an analysis of public data by AFP.

Some flights have been cancelled until at least Wednesday at airports around the country due to a strike by air traffic controllers.

Police and protesters will face off again Saturday, and not just at demonstrations over the pension reform.

At Saint Solines, central France, thousands of people are expected at a protest against the deployment of new water-storage infrastructure for agricultural irrigation, despite an official ban on the gathering.

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POLITICS

French PM to take on far-right chief in TV debate

French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal and far-right party leader Jordan Bardella will lock horns on Thursday evening in a TV debate ahead of European elections.

French PM to take on far-right chief in TV debate

The far-right Rassemblement National (RN) is currently far ahead in opinion polls for the June 9th elections in France, with Emmanuel Macron’s centrist Renaissance party in a battle for second place with the Socialists.

The debate between Attal, 35, and Bardella, 28, who leads the RN’s list in the EU elections, will be the first head-to-head clash between the two leading figures in a new French political generation.

Polls have been making increasingly uncomfortable reading for Macron, who has had to fly to the French Pacific territory of New Caledonia to try to calm the violent unrest there.

Coming third would be a disaster for the president, who portrays himself as a champion of European democracy and bulwark against the far right.

The head of Macron’s party list for the elections, the little known Valérie Heyer, has failed to make an impact and was widely seen as losing a debate with Bardella earlier this month.

According to a Toluna-Harris Interactive study for French media, the presidential camp is stuck at just 15 percent of the vote and in a dogfight for second place with the Socialists – who are on 14.5 percent – led by former commentator Raphael Glucksmann.

The RN, by contrast, is soaring ahead on 31.5 percent.

READ ALSO Who’s who in France’s European election campaign

The RN’s figurehead Marine Le Pen, who has waged three unsuccessful presidential campaigns, has sought to bring the RN into the political mainstream as she eyes another tilt at the presidency in 2027.

“There is a very clear signal that must be sent to Emmanuel Macron. He must suffer the worst possible defeat to bring him back to earth,” Le Pen told CNews and Europe 1 this week.

Bardella, who took over the party leadership from his mentor, is key to Le Pen’s strategy, a gifted communicator of immigrant origin with an expanding following on TikTok.

Attal, also one of the best debaters in Macron’s government, is expected to seek to portray Bardella as an extremist, complacent over the threat posed by Russia and who has little interest in Europe.

Apparently aware of the danger, Bardella on Tuesday said the RN will no longer sit in the EU parliament with the Alternative for Germany (AfD) faction, indicating it had lost patience with the controversies surrounding its German allies.

The head of the AfD’s list in the polls, Maximilian Krah, had said in a weekend interview that someone who had been a member of the SS in Nazi Germany was “not automatically a criminal”.

Bardella is “putting his credibility and the future of his movement on the line in the debate”, said the Le Monde daily, adding that a strong performance could see some RN supporters regard him as a stronger candidate in 2027 than Le Pen.

You can find a more detailed profile of Attal HERE and a look at Bardella HERE

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