French PM offers compromise to unions on pension reform

By Cindi Cook

PARIS (AA) – French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe has offered to scrap a proposal to raise the age for receiving full retirement benefits in a possible concession to unions who have kept the country’s transit system in a state of disarray for nearly a month and a half.

"I am willing to withdraw from the bill the short-term measure I had proposed," Philippe said Saturday, offering to scrap the most contested initiative that would in effect have raised the retirement age by two years to 64.

President Emmanuel Macron agreed that the withdrawal would be "a constructive and responsible compromise."

The offer comes after Philippe and fellow government officials met with union leaders on Friday.

Despite these discussions, an estimated 149,000 people protested nationwide on Saturday, with 21,000 of those in Paris alone, according to the Interior Ministry.

The outcry comes against the government's proposed overhaul of the national pension system, the central issues being the streamlining of the present 42 separate schemes into one point-based system and the raising of the retirement age.

The more hardline General Confederation of Labor union, or CGT, issued a statement saying the compromise is merely "a smokescreen" to persuade other unions to agree to the overall reform, while the more moderate French Democratic Confederation of Labor (CFDT) union and UNSA railway union welcomed the move.

Regardless of the progress, violence broke out during Saturday's marches, with 27 people arrested and 16 officers injured. Police used tear gas against marchers who smashed windows, broke into stores and set fires.

Video widely circulated on social media showed police in riot gear beating protesters with batons, with one officer walking up to a group and opening fire with a riot gun. A protester is then seen falling to the ground.

The police are using anti-riot guns known as LBDs which fire non-lethal 40-millimeter rubber projectiles. An investigation has already been launched.

Another mass protest is planned for Tuesday.