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Macron delays British King Charles’ visit

Calls for more demonstrations against French retirement plan prompt decision by SYLVIE CORBET and THOMAS ADAMSON The Associated Press | March 25, 2023 at 3:33 a.m.
Firemen controlling the remains of a garbage fire from last night protests against the retirement bill in Paris, Friday, March 24, 2023. French President Macron's office says state visit by Britain's King Charles III is postponed amid mass strikes and protests. (AP Photo/Thomas Padilla)

PARIS -- Ongoing unrest across France and calls for a new round of demonstrations against President Emmanuel Macron's pension plan persuaded officials to postpone a planned state visit next week by Britain's King Charles III.

While a clear disappointment to the royal palace, the decision is also seen as a bad sign for Macron. The 45-year-old leader is increasingly detested by protesters and contested in Parliament, and seen as oblivious to France's souring mood as he sticks to his positions. And that's now hurting his global image, too.

Charles had been scheduled to arrive in France on Sunday to celebrate France and Britain's renewed friendship. But the protests and strikes against Macron's decision to raise France's retirement age from 62 to 64 promised to cloud his visit, with some workers refusing to roll out the red carpet for the king's arrival.

Violence soared during Thursday's ninth union-organized nationwide marches. Over 450 protesters were arrested in Paris and beyond, and hundreds of police and demonstrators were injured, as gatherings nationwide drew more than 1 million people.

There were scattered protest actions Friday. Train traffic was slowed, rows of trucks blocked access to Marseille's port for several hours and debris littered the streets of Paris.

Macron has made the proposed pension changes the priority of his second term, arguing they are needed to keep the pension system from diving into deficit as France, like many richer nations, faces lower birth rates and longer life expectancy.

Anger over the plan has increasingly turned into broader opposition to Macron's leadership. His insistence this week that the retirement measure be implemented by the end of the year prompted critics to describe him as "self-satisfied" and "out of touch."

During his first term, Macron's government made other changes it said would make France's labor market more flexible and revitalize the economy. Those included making it easier to hire and fire workers, cutting business taxes and making it more difficult for the unemployed to claim benefits.

Critics argue the changes fray a social safety net seen as central to France's way of life.

Countries across Europe have been raising pension ages. Retirement rules vary widely from country to country, making direct comparisons difficult. The official retirement age in the U.S. is now 67.

Macron's plan involves multiple adjustments to France's complex pension system. It would also require French people to work 43 years to earn a full pension, or wait until they turn 67, as the law now calls for. Opponents have proposed other solutions, including higher taxes on the wealthy or companies.

The government refused to consider those, however, and forced the bill through parliament last week, using a constitutional power, and the text is now being reviewed by France's Constitutional Council. The forced passage further angered Macron's critics.

Macron condemned the violent behavior at some protests, saying "violence has no place in a democracy."

He said "common sense and friendship" required delaying King Charles' visit, adding that it likely would have become a protest target, creating a "detestable situation."

It wouldn't be reasonable "to hold a state visit in the middle of protests," the French leader told a news conference after a summit in Brussels. He said he took the initiative to call Charles on Friday morning, and that the visit likely would be rescheduled for the summer.

Charles and Queen Consort Camilla planned to visit both France and Germany during the king's first trip abroad as Britain's monarch. He still plans to go to Germany.

Charles had been scheduled to visit the city of Bordeaux on Tuesday, coinciding with the 10th round of nationwide strikes and protests. The heavy wooden door of the elegant Bordeaux City Hall was destroyed by fire Thursday night by people taking part in an unauthorized demonstration.

Bordeaux wine industry officials expressed regret that Charles would not visit next week, but were glad the visit would still happen.

"We are of course disappointed Charles won't come now but we clearly understand why," said Cecile Ha of the Bordeaux Wine Council. "We are looking forward to welcoming him at the end of summer, which is great time for the vineyards as they are very lively at this time of year before the harvests."

French authorities have blamed radicals for the protest destruction. But Europe's main human-rights body, the Council of Europe; the International Federation of Human Rights; and media watchdog Reporters Without Borders also raised concern Friday about violence by police against what has been a largely peaceful movement.

Information for this article was contributed by Danica Kirka and Samuel Petrequin of The Associated Press.

  photo  King Charles III receives the Ambassador of Turkey Koray Ertas, as he presents his credentials during a private audience at Buckingham Palace, London, Thursday March 24, 2023. (Victoria Jones/PA via AP)
  photo  A fireman pushes a waste container among the remains of a garbage fire from last night protests against the retirement bill in Paris, Friday, March 24, 2023. French President Macron's office says state visit by Britain's King Charles III is postponed amid mass strikes and protests. (AP Photo/Thomas Padilla)
  photo  FILE - Britain's Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall look on as French President Emmanuel Macron, right, makes a speech following laying a wreath at a ceremony at Carlton Gardens in London, Thursday June 18, 2020. French President Emmanuel Macron's office on Friday, March 24, 2023, said a state visit by Britain's King Charles III has been postponed amid mass strikes and protests in France. The king had been scheduled to arrive in France on Sunday on his first state visit as monarch, before heading to Germany on Wednesday. (Jonathan Brady/Pool via AP, File)
  photo  A protester kicks a tear gas canister in front of the Opera at the end of a rally in Paris, Thursday, march 23, 2023. French unions are holding their first mass demonstrations Thursday since President Emmanuel Macron enflamed public anger by forcing a higher retirement age through parliament without a vote. (AP Photo/Aurelien Morissard)

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