Yellow vest protesters joined a rally of several thousand people on Saturday against the pensions overhaul from President Emmanuel Macron that has disrupted schools, railways and roads since the start of this month. Police were forced to use tear close to tourists hotspots like the Centre Pompidou museum of modern art, where some demonstrators tried to erect barricades and set fire to them, while also destroying a bus stop. Protesters also gathered on the Place de la Bourse and the Gare du Nord train station in Paris, furiously waving placards with Mr Macron’s face on them.
One of the signs read: “Macron, withdrawal is urgent!”
Jerome Rodrigues, a prominent figure in the year-long yellow vest movement which sprung up in a backlash against the high cost of living, suffered an injury to his eye, although it was not immediately clear how he sustained that.
Mr Rodrigues was blinded in the same eye earlier this year during a serrate demonstration.
France’s huge transport network has remained heavily disrupted over the weekend, with the capital Paris heavily impacted.
The SNCF train authority said only six of 10 high-speed trains were running. The Eurostar from Paris to London had four of five trains running.
Rail and metro workers have so far insisted they will keep pressure on Mr Macron as they attempt to force him to abandon his pensions overhaul.
Laurent Djebali, a representative of the metro branch of the Unsa union said as he joined the march: “We’re ready to hold for quite a while.”
French trade unions have spearheaded national strikes since the start of this month in a furious reaction to a pensions overhaul from the President.
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On Saturday, the strikes entered day 24 – longer than the notorious 22-day strike during the winter of 1995 under late President Jacques Chirac against welfare cutbacks, which eventually forced his Government into a huge U-turn.
Mr Macron has continued to tout his reform as a conducive to a fairer system that will incentivise workers to stay in the labour force until the age of 64 instead of 62, and balance the pension budget.
The unions are demanding Mr Macron’s Government drops the plan to merge 42 existing pension schemes into a single, points-based system.
The overhaul would see workers in a number of sectors lose early-retirement benefits.
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Philippe Martinez, secretary general of the CGT union said as he visited picketing workers at a bus depot: “It’s a strong movement and still supported by public opinion.”
He also launched a scathing attack against Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, who has said he does not want any confrontation with the strikers, accusing him of not being true to his word.
Mr Martinez added: “The Government shows how agitated it is with this kind of conception of social dialogue.”
But the crippling strikes throughout France look set to continue into 2020, with talks between the unions and government only set to resume on January 7, with major demonstrations planned two days later.
The country’s transport network was also heavily disrupted on Friday, with just two driverless metro lines operating and five lines shut down altogether.
SNCF said 8.5 percent of its employees were on strike but 38.8 percent of drivers were not working.
The train authority warned just over a third (35 percent) of scheduled TGVs would be working on New Year’s Day and half on January 2.
Mr Macron is still due to give his traditional New Year address to France on December 31, with tens of millions of people watching closely for any sign his Government will back down from its pensions reform.