Riots in France over a proposed pension reform have entered a ninth day as squads of elite French policeman stormed on the historical capital of Lyon to quell violent students.
The students joined more than one million trade union workers from 250 towns and cities in protests that have seen the country descend into chaos, sparking transportation shutdowns across France.
Nicknamed Sarko’s Stormtroopers’, the National Police Intervention Group faced down 2000 youngsters in Place Bellecour, Lyon, where cars had been set on fire and shop windows smashed.
Looking like they belonged in a warzone, the squads deployed batons, riot shields and tear gas to deal with the troublemakers, but they were also armed with Heckler and Koch short-barrelled, pump-action riot shotguns designed for ‘defensive action’.
France is on the brink of anarchy as increasingly militant trade unions call for more continued industrial action over President Nicolas Sarkozy’s pension reform bill which raises the retirement age from 60 to 62 years of age and increases the full state pension age from 65 to 67. The Senate will vote later today on the reforms.
There have also been clashes in the Paris suburb of Nanterre, where students yesterday joined hundreds of thousands of others from around the city for a mass demonstration. Rioters destroyed vehicles, smashed bus stops and hurled rocks and police retaliated by firing tear gas and rubber bullets. More than 1,500 people were arrested.
“We will head for the senate and, if necessary, try to storm it,” one radical student leader told the Daily Mail.
“The government has pushed us to the brink and has threatened our entire future.”
Nationwide fuel shortages due to blockades have shut down schools and oil refineries and paralysed traffic. About 4000 gas stations of 13,000 countrywide are awaiting supplies. The nation’s busiest airport, Roissy-Charles de Gaulle, was forced to cancel 30 per cent of its flights, while Paris Orly canceled 50 per cent. Airport employees have been told they must walk to work and many travellers have had to transport their own luggage.
The government insists the reform will save the nation billions and is the only way to assure that citizens—including the students protesting—will receive their pensions in years to come.
“This reform is essential,” President Sarkozy said. “France is committed to it. France will carry it out.”
Student protests are one of the biggest concerns to the French government, said Jean-Francois Cope, a Sarkozy supporter and member of the French National Assembly.
“I am very concerned because when students take to the streets, there is always a risk of serious problems,” Mr. Cope told a French radio station. “Students should understand the reforms are being made for them.”
Some fear the riots could be a precursor to the e-run of the infamous May 1968 student riots in Paris when millions threatened another French revolution.
The unrest has led to Lady Gaga’s upcoming Monster Ball tour dates in Paris being pushed back to December.