PARIS : Paris riot police ousted students seeking to occupy Sorbonne university and strikes Friday shut down the Eiffel Tower and two-thirds of French trains — all part of a season of simmering national discontent.
Much of the anger centers on President Emmanuel Macron, but he went on national TV on Thursday to declare that strikes and protests won’t prevent him from overhauling France’s economy so it can better compete on the global stage.
Rail workers resumed a strike Friday that will disrupt travel off-and-on through June. But the number of striking workers was down from previous actions, and international trains largely went through.
National railway authority SNCF said 80 percent of Eurostar trains between Paris and London will run on Saturday, and the Thalys trains between France, Belgium and the Netherlands are expected to run normally. But only one-third of France’s high speed and regional trains will run.
The Eiffel Tower announced it was closed to the public Friday because of a strike by security personnel. Their demands were not immediately clear. The Sorbonne announced that its iconic Left Bank site was closed Friday for security reasons after the Thursday night police operation. While about 200 students were evacuated, a few hundred others gathered outside, chanting angrily at police.
The site was a nucleus of student protests 50 years ago in May 1968, when strikes and university occupations paralyzed France’s economy in a pivotal moment in modern French history. Students at campuses around France are now protesting admissions reforms that they fear threaten access to public university for all French high school graduates. Macron on Thursday dismissed the student protesters as “professional agitators” and ridiculed some of their demands.
While the protesters in 1968 were seeking to overturn old ways, today’s workers and students are fighting to maintain the status quo — including worker rights that Macron says are incompatible with today’s global economy.
The 40-year-old French leader said Thursday he’s determined to push ahead with reforms to the SNCF railway, to prepare it to open up to competition. Commuters squeezed into scarce trains Friday and electronic display boards showed disrupted traffic as SNCF workers kicked off a new two-day strike.
“We have to leave earlier, we arrive late at work. We have no choice. I’ll have to leave earlier this evening to catch a train,” said commuter Sandra Loretti at the Gare Saint-Lazare station in northwest Paris. “We take the car. Extra journey, extra time, extra tiredness.”
Hospital staff, retirees, lawyers and magistrates are also protesting reforms by Macron’s government. To explain his positions, Macron will go on national television again Sunday to answer questions for two hours from BFM television and the investigative website Mediapart.