PARIS — Workers across France clashed with police at hundreds of International Workers' Day demonstrations in protest of President Emmanuel Macron's pension reform bill that raised the country's retirement age.
Macron last month signed a law to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64, despite months of strikes against the bill. Labor unions remain incensed by the change and asked workers to voice their discontent by taking to the streets this May Day.
"This is wrong," Sacha Crombecque, a 27-year-old government environmentalist, said at a protest in Paris. "The government says we are in need of money to pay the pensions ... but there is money. There are a lot of rich people in France."
"The money is here — you just have to take it," he added. "But, Macron is a friend of rich people and he criticizes real people."
Skirmishes between protesters and police grew particularly heated in Paris and Lyon. Demonstrators lit ride-share bicycles on fire and threw Molotov cocktails or small petrol bombs in the capital and lit cars on fire in Lyon, according to Reuters. In one instance, a police officer's vest caught on fire.
Paris authorities said they extinguished a building fire on the Place de la Nation, a square famous for having the most active guillotines during the French Revolution. It's unknown whether anyone was hurt or the extent of the damage.
Many alleged black bloc agitators were part of the growing violence that included the smashing of bank and business windows across numerous cities.
Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin announced as night fell on the nation's capital that there have been 291 arrests across France, including 90 in Paris.
Throughout the day, the police were not quiet in their response, using tear gas and wielding riot shields and batons to disperse the crowd. Video from the protests shows police aggressively flogging protesters with nightsticks. Over 5,000 police lined the streets of the French capital, according to the Paris police chief Laurent Nunez. More than 12,000 were stationed across France.
The Observatory of Street Medics, a group aligned with the protesters, said that it observed 200 people injured and performed over 2,000 tear gas decontaminations. It said 30 people were severely injured and had to be evacuated from the protests.
French police also used drones to film the protesters, according to The Associated Press, which some activists said could be an invasion of privacy.
Not all of the protests grew violent. Across Paris, many protesters sang, participated in choreographed dances or chanted in a festive manner. But at times these peaceful protests were overshadowed by dark plumes of smoke in the distance.
The major French labor union, General Confederation of Labour or CGT, said it estimated that there were over 300 protests throughout the country. Around 1.3 million people were expected to take to the streets before the protests began.
French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said the clashes undermined the point of the day.
"In numerous cities in France, this May Day was a moment of responsible mobilization and commitment. That makes these scenes of violence on the sidelines of the demonstrations all the more unacceptable," she wrote on Twitter. "Support our law enforcement."
France was not the only country to experience that discontent and demand for economic justice, as workers took to the streets across Asia and Europe to celebrate May Day, according to the AP.
While the French police battled protesters, marches were also seen in South Korea, Spain, Lebanon and Germany, the wire service reported. Pakistan's and Turkey's celebrations were marked by political tensions, as both countries will soon face high-stakes elections.
Nancy Ing and Marc Smith reported from Paris; Phil McCausland reported from New York.