French strikes over Macron reforms turn ugly

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While the vast majority of around 180 demonstrations nationwide were peaceful, scuffles erupted between police and hooded young protesters in Paris and the western city of Nantes, where security forces fired tear gas and water cannon.

The strikes also expected to affect hospitals, libraries and other public services.

Unions deliberately chose March 22nd as the launch date for the strikes to coincide with the start of France's legendary protests in 1968 that saw pitched street battles between police and students.

Railway workers are planning on striking for 2 days out of 5 between April and June, which they think will prove to Macron that they mean business, but he hopes it'll just turn the public against them.

Police in helmets and body armour took up positions around the Super-U supermarket.The Paris prosecutor's office said counter-terrorism prosecutors were investigating the incident but did not comment on the possible Islamic State allegiance.

A third of flights into and out of the main Paris airports of Charles de Gaulle, Orly and Beauvais will be cancelled during a strike by air traffic controllers, though long-haul flights are not affected. Unions accuse him of seeking to dismantle the state sector.

Some commentators have reached into the past to draw parallels with more recent confrontations, particularly to 1995 when weeks of strikes paralysed the country and forced the government to abandon a pension reform.

French public sector unions organised strikes and rallies on 22 March to protest government plans to reform public services, including the benefits of civil servants.

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Plans to use more contractors and increasingly offer pay based on merit, rather than on experience, are seen by unions as attacks on traditional job security.

Railway workers are anxious by government plans to scrap job-for-life guarantees and automatic annual pay rises.

"We would prefer not to strike and would prefer to have a debate with the government, but we have asked Presidents Nicolas Sarkozy, François Hollande and now Emmanuel Macron and we are still waiting for it", he said.

While Thursday's strikes are likely to inconvenience many travelers, Macron was elected on a mandate of reforming the country's famously rigid labor laws.

His government is targeting the SNCF rail operator in particular, which is carrying €46.6bn (£40.7bn) of debt. "It is a provisional assessment as it could unfortunately get worse".

But industrial action at France's national railway is set to continue beyond this week. Recent surveys suggest that while a large chunk of voters support the strikes, a majority backs the reforms, Reuters reported.

Tens of thousands of people have already taken to the streets in three rounds of protests over Macron's labour reforms.

A gunman killed three people in southwestern France on Friday as he held up a auto, fired on police and seized hostages in a supermarket, screaming "Allahu Akbar" before security forces stormed the building and killed him, authorities said.

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