Water also at issue in France protests

Amid nationwide protests over the government’s pension reform in France, clashes between demonstrators and police are reported from the rural commune of Saite-Soline, in the western department of Deux-Sèvres. Thousands defied an official ban March 25 to mobilize against the construction of new water storage “basins” for crop irrigation. In the ensuing fracas, security forces deployed helicopters and tear-gas, and several protesters were wounded, some seriously. Authorities said that gendarmes were injured as well, and patrol cars set ablaze. Some protesters reportedly dug up and dismantled a section of pipe that had been laid to feed the reservoir, and marched with the severed segments held aloft. Interior Minister GĂ©rald Darmanin described the scene as “eco-terrorism.”

The local Bassines Non Merci group calls the “mega-basins” project a “water grab” by “agro-industry.” The Sainte-Soline basin is the second of 16 such installations planned by a cooperative of some 400 farmers. The basins, which can each hold 650,000 square meters of water, are to be filled by pumping groundwater in winter, for use during the drier summers. Opponents say the project will deplete the local aquifer amid ongoing drought conditions in the region. (AFP, France24, Bloomberg, Oodaloop, Barrons, EuroWeekly News, Today Online)

Scattered protests continue across France following mass demonstrations March 23 to oppose President Emmanuel Macron’s pension reform bill. The unrest prompted Britain’s King Charles III to cancel his scheduled visit to France this week. Macron stated in a news conference that the visit “would have prompted incidents” he characterized as “detestable.”

National trade union federation CGT stated that 3.5 million protestors took to the streets across France March 23 to voice their discontent with the reform bill, which is set to raise the country’s retirement age from 62 to 64. Macron narrowly survived a vote of no confidence in Parliament following his decision to “force through” the measure without a vote by lawmakers. At Macron’s instruction, Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne invoked Article 49.3 of the French Constitution, which allows the government to pass a bill without a vote of the National Assembly. The plan had been approved by the Senate two weeks earlier.

While the majority of protests have been peaceful, police and demonstrators clashed as protests stretched into the night March 23, and the Bordeaux town hall was briefly set ablaze before fire-fighters extinguished the flames. Interior Minister Darmanin claimed that 441 police and gendarmes were injured, with 457 people arrested across France. He insisted that violence stemmed from “far-left thugs,” while media outlets reported police using tear-gas, batons and water cannons to control protestors.

Labor unions have called for regional protests to continue, with national protests set to resume tis week. Unions argue that responsibility for escalating the protests lies with the government, with a recent poll indicating that 61% of French citizens feel that Macron’s response to the protestors will provoke more anger. (Jurist, Politico)

Photo via Unicorn Riot