PARIS (AP) — Armed with Molotov cocktails or paving stones, black-clad radicals are increasingly invading large, peaceful protest marches against pension reforms in France, attacking police in spiraling violence.
Street battles between the trouble-makers — a volatile combination of anarchists, ultra-leftists and radicalized yellow vest activists — and police in several parts of the country are leaving some city centers looking like wastelands.
President Emmanuel Macron inflamed public anger by sending his already unpopular plan to raise the retirement age by two years, from 62 to 64, through parliament without a vote.
Violence hit a new high during Thursday's ninth union-organized nationwide marches. Clashes in Nantes, in western France, in Lyon, in the southeast, and in Paris grew increasingly brutal.
Youths, their faces hidden by black scarves, broke shop windows, set fire to garbage lying uncollected in the streets due to a more than two-week strike and pelted police with stones, Molotov cocktails and fireworks. Police in riot gear charged what authorities call “radical elements,” and used tear gas and clubs to push them back in increasingly violent confrontations.
Added to the anarchists and other ultra-leftists are members of the yellow vest grassroots movement, which first appeared on French streets in 2018 demanding more economic and social justice, then slowly disappeared as a destructive radical fringe ran rampant in cities.
Some people pulled out umbrellas in a vain attempt to protect themselves from the tear gas. Flares sent aloft by the trouble-makers, mixed with tear gas copiously lobbed by police, turned the night sky into a thick haze.
The street battles come on the sidelines of organized, peaceful marches. Authorities have likened them to urban warfare.