France on strike: Flare waving protesters storm Gare de Lyon in Paris

5 December 2019, 07:43

Protesters storm the Gare de Lyon in Paris
Protesters storm the Gare de Lyon in Paris. Picture: Twitter
EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

France is braced for huge travel disruption as millions of workers go on strike in protest at being forced to retire later or face reduced pensions.

The largest nationwide strike in recent French history was agreed by unions unhappy with reforms to the pension system, proposed by President Emmanuel Macron.

The transport system is expected to be hit the hardest as flights, trains and buses suffer cancellations, and most of the Paris subway system comes to a halt.

Pension protesters stormed the Gare de Lyon on Friday, videos from social media show flare waving strikers demonstrating in the almost deserted train station.

France's Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said he expected almost 250 demonstrations nationwide, some of which he said could turn violent.

"We know there will be lots of people in these protests and we know the risks. I have requested that systematically when there is rioting or violence we make arrests immediately," the Minister said.

A number of yellow-vest protesters known as "gilets jaunes" said they plan to join the demonstrations.

The Eiffel Tower is closed because of the Paris strike
The Eiffel Tower is closed because of the Paris strike. Picture: PA

Transport workers will be joined by teachers, police, lawyers, hospital and airport staff who will all walkout.

Authorities have been trying to put in place plans to mediate the disruption.

The industrial action is expected to last beyond Thursday and some trade union leaders have warned they will continue until Mr Macron abandons his campaign promise to overhaul the retirement system.

No tickets are available on Eurostar trains until Tuesday, with the company saying it had cancelled almost 100 services between Thursday and then.

Air France said around 30% of its domestic flights would be cancelled.

Easyjet, British Airways and Ryanair have also opted to cancel many of their flights to and from France.

As tourists cancelled travel plans, police said they would deploy thousands of extra officers across Paris to help the city cope with what is expected to be a challenging day on Thursday.

Workers at the national railway SNCF stopped on work on Wednesday evening while other services planned to shut down on Thursday morning for an indefinite period.

Firefighters join the strike expressing concern over pension plans
Firefighters join the strike expressing concern over pension plans. Picture: PA

On Thursday Paris will see a large scale protest march as police warn of possible violence and damage with all businesses, cafes and restaurants along the ordered route to close.

Authorities also issued a ban on protests on the Champs-Elysees, around the presidential palace, parliament and Notre Dame Cathedral.

Paris police chief Didier Lallement said 6,000 police officers would be deployed around the city, amid fears that yellow vest protest groups and extremist troublemakers could join the action.

The Eiffel Tower is warning tourists to delay a visit to the famous monument because the strike will disrupt access on Thursday.

The strike was well advertised across France
The strike was well advertised across France. Picture: PA

The Louvre Museum said its opening on Thursday may be delayed and some viewing rooms may be closed.

The SNCF railway company expects nine out of 10 high-speed trains to be cancelled.

The French government said 55% of teachers would be on strike on Thursday and hospitals will also be affected.

Workers are angry at President Emmanuel Macron's plan to streamline the country's 42 state pension systems, fearing they will have to work longer and earn less upon retirement.

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