Hundreds of thousands of people are expected to take part in street protests and strikes across France on Tuesday amid fears of violent clashes with police, as demonstrations continue over Emmanuel Macron’s use of constitutional executive powers to push through an unpopular raise of the pension age.
The protest movement against raising the age from 62 to 64 is the biggest domestic crisis of Macron’s second term, with the strikes on Tuesday expected to affect refineries, bin collections, rail transport, air travel and schools. Authorities in Paris and several cities are braced for clashes between police and protesters.
The crisis has intensified because of controversy over policing tactics, with lawyers complaining of arbitrary arrests, injuries and heavy-handedness during crowd control.
A 30-year-old man was fighting for his life in a coma on Monday after anti-government feeling spread beyond the issue of pensions to environmental demonstrations at the weekend in the west of France – spurred by the impact of new water storage facilities for crop irrigation.
The man suffered head trauma during clashes between protesters and police. An investigation is under way to determine the circumstances.
The IGPN, the internal affairs unit of the French police, said it had launched 17 investigations into incidents and allegations against police across France in recent weeks.
More than 30 lawyers wrote an open letter to Le Monde on Monday stating their “great concern” over what they called arbitrary arrests of hundreds of people, accusing the police of using the judicial system and arrests as a tactic to put people off protesting.
The head of Paris police has said all arrests were justified. The interior minister Gérald Darmanin said many police officers had been injured during the protests.
What began as two months of regular, peaceful trade union-organised strike days has shifted to more impromptu protest gatherings over the past 10 days.
There have been pockets of unrest in many cities and towns after dark, with fires lit on streets and property vandalised.
Attacks on politicians’ constituency offices have increased since Macron’s decision to push through the pensions changes, bypassing the lower-house of parliament.
A preparatory note by French intelligence services ahead of Tuesday’s trade union-led day of strike and protests said there was likely to be many more young people taking part, perhaps twice or three times as many as on the last big day of strike action last Thursday, French media reported.
According to the daily Le Parisien, the note said “the topic of repression and police violence … could focus young people’s anger”.
Many young people at first “didn’t feel affected” by the pensions changes, but then decided to join the movement last week, “indignant” at the use of executive powers contained in article 49.3 of the constitution to bypass parliament, after the government feared it would not get enough votes.