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Scuffles erupt as Paris protesters rally against pension reforms

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Protesters marching against the French government’s planned pension reform have clashed with police in the capital, Paris, as police fired tear gas to disperse some the groups.

France‘s trade unions have spearheaded nationwide strikes since early December in an outcry over President Emmanuel Macron’s pensions overhaul, disrupting schools, railways and roads, while lending support to regular protests.

On Saturday, anti-government movement “yellow vest” protesters joined a rally of several thousand people against the pensions shake-up.

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Police used tear gas against protesters close to tourist hotspots like the Centre Pompidou museum of modern art, where some demonstrators had tried to erect barricades and set fire to them, and smashed up a bus stop.

Clashes broke out at other points of the demonstration too, although the protest was dying down by the late afternoon.

The “yellow vest” movement sprung up a year ago as a backlash against the high cost of living, and has been part of anti-government protests in the country since then.

Jerome Rodrigues, a prominent figure in the movement, was hurt in the eye although it was not immediately clear how he had sustained the injury. Rodrigues was blinded in the same eye earlier this year during another demonstration.

France’s transport network remained disrupted across the country and in Paris on the last weekend of the year, and rail and metro workers have so far insisted they will keep pressure on Macron to abandon his overhaul.

“We’re ready to hold for quite a while,” Laurent Djebali, a representative of the metro branch of the Unsa union, told The Associated Press news agency as he joined the march. 

Nationwide protests planned

Macron has touted his reform as conducive to a fairer system that will incentivise workers to stay in the labour force until 64 instead of 62 and balance the pension budget.

Al Jazeera’s Bernard Smith, reporting from Paris, said that Saturday’s protests could be a taste of what might come on January 9, when nationwide protests are planned to take place.

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“President Macron says he is not giving up on the pension reforms. He says they have to be done. So the government, keeps on pushing the unions, which are not giving up either,” he said.

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe plans to continue talks with unions after a holiday break. 

On Saturday, the country’s train authority said only six of 10 high-speed trains were running.

The international Eurostar from Paris to London had four of five trains running. Paris Metro service was improving, with partial service on several lines that had been shut down from the start.

SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies

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