French police fired teargas and clashed with demonstrators in Paris and other cities on Monday after trade unions transformed their traditional Labour Day marches into anti-government demonstrations against the rise in the retirement age.
At least 108 police were wounded and 291 people detained across France as violence erupted in several cities on the sidelines of the main union-led marches, the interior minister, Gérald Darmanin, told reporters.
In Paris, the trade union-led demonstration began peacefully with many families joining in, holding banners calling for social justice and demanding Macron resign or withdraw his law to raise the minimum eligible pension age from 62 to 64.
But on the edges of the march as it passed through Paris’s 11th arrondissement, police fired teargas and clashed with groups of young men dressed in black. Projectiles, bins and petrol bombs were thrown at police.
Some Paris bus stops and shop fronts were smashed and graffitied with anti-police slogans. As the march reached its end point at Place de la Nation, police fired teargas and pushed back crowds as demonstrators threw projectiles.
There was also unrest in Lyon, where several cars were set alight and the windows of some businesses were smashed. In Nantes in western France, bins were piled up and set alight in front of an administration building, shop windows were smashed and police fired teargas after protesters threw projectiles. A demonstrator in Nantes was treated by paramedics for a serious injury to his hand.
In Marseille, a group of more than 100 demonstrators briefly occupied a luxury hotel near the old port before being pushed back by police. Teargas was also fired in Toulouse and Rennes.
Police had been given a last-minute go-ahead to use drones as a security measure after a Paris court rejected a petition from rights groups for them not to be used.
The interior minister, Darmanin, tweeted that while “the great majority of demonstrators were of course peaceful”, in Paris, Lyon and Nantes, police had faced “extremely violent rioters who had one objective: kill a police officer and steal property”. He said the violence should be condemned.
In separate protests, environmental activists from Extinction Rebellion sprayed orange paint on the facade of the Fondation Louis Vuitton museum in Paris, which is backed by the luxury goods giant LVMH. A different environmental protest group sprayed orange paint around the Place Vendôme in central Paris, known for its jewellery shops, and targeted the facade of the justice ministry.
Last month, Macron signed into law an unpopular rise in the minimum eligible age for state pensions from 62 to 64, despite months of strikes. There had been sporadic unrest and clashes with police after an executive order was used to push the law through parliament without a vote.
Macron and the government are now trying to move on from the pensions crisis, with the president making several visits to provincial France in recent days, but protesters have booed and banged pots and pans. Trade unions said the mood of anger in France had not subsided.
Unions had called for a big turnout on Monday and the demonstrations were larger than standard Labour Day marches, with hundreds of thousands attending about 300 demonstrations across France.
Sonia Paccaud of the moderate CFDT union old Le Monde that “violent groups who have nothing to do with the struggles we’re leading” had taken advantage of the peaceful trade union march in Lyon.
The far-right leader Marine Le Pen, whose National Rally is the biggest opposition party in parliament, held a May Day gathering in the Normandy port of Le Havre, accusing Macron of stoking tensions in society.
Macron’s centrist grouping lacks an absolute majority in parliament, making it hard for the government to push through new legislation after the row over pensions. After three months of intermittent strike days and demonstrations against the pensions law, the government is also struggling to re-engage with voters.
The centrist François Bayrou, whose Mouvement Démocrate party (MoDem) is allied with Macron’s parliamentary group, said France needed “healing and reconciliation”. He said the pensions law had been badly explained by politicians. “I don’t think it’s specific to France, but public opinion and French people no longer tolerate decisions being made far away from them without being informed of the reason for those decisions,” he told French radio.