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French May Day marches raise heat on Emmanuel Macron after election

Tens of thousands of people joined politically charged May Day marches across France on Sunday, with many protesters fired up at newly re-elected president Emmanuel Macron’s plan for a pensions reform that will be one of the big tests of his second term in office.

The demonstrations also focused on demands for higher salaries after an election season dominated by concerns over the cost of living and soaring fuel prices.

The protests were marred by clashes between anarchist groups and police in the capital, where a real estate office, bank branches and a McDonald’s restaurant were attacked.

A week after Macron defeated far-right leader Marine Le Pen to win a second presidential term, unions and some activists and politicians seized on the traditional French labour day marches as a show of strength amid pushback over some of his proposals, including a plan to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64 or 65.

“It’s important for us to mobilise and to show we will be ready to mobilise, starting now, and to go on rolling strikes for this pension reform to be withdrawn,” said 46-year-old teacher Armelle Perthus at the march in Paris.

Some marchers carried banners calling for “climate justice” and “retirement at 60”, in an echo of the manifesto of far-left leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who was only narrowly pushed into third place in the first round of the presidential election, behind Le Pen.

Macron voter Quentin Blin, 28, said he had joined the protests in Paris out of curiosity after the election: “Everything is unstable, it’s so chaotic that I want to see what people are thinking.”

Macron faces his first big challenge in June as he tries to win another parliamentary majority in legislative elections that would enable him to pass reforms. Parties on the left and right are exploring potential alliances to deprive him of that power.

But the president, who has said he will seek to govern in a more conciliatory way in his second term after criticism of his top-down style, could face more protests. He has said he wants the pensions reform in place by next year.

Mélenchon, who has been trying to forge a left-leaning alliance bringing together the Communist party, Greens and Socialists, was among the political leaders at the Paris rally.

“We have ahead of us a [legislative] election that might allow us to defeat those that want to keep you working until 65,” he told supporters. France’s centre-left Socialist party, which sank to its lowest-ever score in a presidential election in April’s first round of voting, marched under a banner of “no to retiring at 65”. 

Philippe Martinez, leader of the leftwing CGT union, on Sunday called for more measures to boost salaries beyond a 2.65 per cent rise in the minimum wage that kicked in on May 1, after year-on-year inflation reached 4.8 per cent in April.

Without the pensions reform, some economists and business leaders argue, Macron will struggle to find the funds for other initiatives, including aid for those facing higher fuel bills and as France gears up for big investments in renewable energy. The country spends more of its economic output on pensions than most of its European neighbours.

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