The move sparked angry protests in Paris and other French cities as well as tumult in the legislature

Paris (AFP) - French President Emmanuel Macron’s government on Friday faced no-confidence motions in parliament and intensified protests after imposing a contentious pension reform without a vote in the lower house.

The situation presents Macron, who has only made occasional public comments on the matter, with one of his biggest challenges less than one year into his second and final mandate.

Dozens of protesters flooded onto the train tracks at the main station in the southwestern city of Bordeaux

Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne on Thursday invoked article 49.3 of the constitution to impose the pension overhaul by decree, sparking angry demonstrations nationwide that saw more than 300 people arrested, according to the interior ministry.

French opposition lawmakers on Friday retaliated by filing the motion of no-confidence in the government, hoping to repeal the deeply unpopular law to hike the retirement age from 62 to 64.

Protesters shielding themselves with umbrellas set off fireworks during protests late Thursday in the western city of Nantes

“The vote on this motion will allow us to get out on top of a deep political crisis,” said lawmaker Bertrand Pancher, whose motion was signed by independents and members of the broad left-wing NUPES coalition.

The far-right National Rally (RN) filed a second motion. It was expected to get less backing but the party said it would also vote for the other motion.

They are likely to be debated in parliament on Monday afternoon, parliamentary sources told AFP.

Borne’s cabinet is largely expected to survive any vote. The no-confidence motion would need backing from around half the contingent of the opposition right-wing Republicans, a scenario seen as highly improbable.

- ‘Won’t give up’ -

Across France, fresh protests erupted on Friday in the latest show of popular opposition to the bill since mid-January.

“We won’t give up,” said Philippe Melaine, a 49-year-old biology teacher. “There’s still hope that the reform can be revoked.”

Dozens of protesters flooded onto the train tracks at the main station in the southwestern city of Bordeaux, an AFP photographer said.

A strike by Paris municipal garbage collectors has caused about 10,000 tonnes of trash to pile up in the streets

Earlier in the day, some 200 protesters briefly blocked traffic on the ring road outside the capital Paris.

In the energy sector, strikers were to halt production at a large refinery by this weekend or Monday, CGT union representative Eric Sellini said.

Strikers continued to deliver less fuel than normal from several other sites, he added.

Unions have called for another day of mass strikes and protests for next Thursday, branding the government’s move “a complete denial of democracy”.

“Changing the government or prime minister will not put out this fire, only withdrawing the reform,” said the head of the CFDT union, Laurent Berger.

- ‘Playing with fire’ -

Macron put the pensions reform, which also seeks to increase the number of years people have to work to receive a full pension, at the centre of his re-election campaign last year.

Pro-business Macron, 45, has championed pension reform since first winning power in 2017

But the 45-year-old centrist lost his parliamentary majority in June after elections for the lower-house National Assembly.

Opposition lawmakers jeered and booed as Borne invoked the controversial article 49.3 to ram through the pensions law on Thursday after failing to ensure a majority.

The influential Le Monde newspaper accused Macron of “playing with fire”.

“If the country slides into a new bout of anger or locks itself into vengeful paralysis, the executive will only have itself to blame,” it said in an editorial.

The president has rarely made public comment on what is a signature policy and left his premier in the firing line.

Borne, whose own position is now on the line, has used the contested loophole to bypass a parliament vote 11 times since becoming prime minister last year.

RN figurehead Marine Le Pen, who leads its MPs in parliament, has described Thursday’s cabinet move as “a total failure for the government”.

Jean-Luc Melenchon of the hard-left France Unbowed (LFI) party earlier on Friday called for “spontaneous rallies across the country”.

- ‘Wreaking havoc’ -

Trains, schools, public services and ports have since January been affected by strikes against the proposed reform.

Police used tear gas and water cannon to clear protesters in Paris on Thursday

A rolling strike by municipal garbage collectors in Paris has caused about 10,000 tonnes of trash to pile up in the streets, according to the mayor’s office, attracting rats and putting off tourists.

Unions from national train operator SNCF Friday meanwhile urged workers to continue a rolling strike that has caused major disruption on the network.

Thousands of protesters had massed opposite parliament on Thursday evening.

Police used tear gas to clear demonstrators after a fire was lit in the centre of the historic Place de la Concorde, and similar scenes unfolded across France.

The ensuing unrest saw 310 people arrested around the country, including 258 in Paris, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said.

“The opposition is legitimate, the protests are legitimate, but wreaking havoc is not,” he said.

According to polls, two-thirds of French people oppose the pension overhaul.