Protests in France over pension changes stretched into a ninth day on Thursday, disrupting transport and other services. Photo by Guillame Horcajuelo/EPA-EFE
March 23 (UPI) -- A ninth day of strikes in France over President Emmanuel Macron's changes to the country's pension system wrought widespread disruption across the country Thursday, with trains and planes canceled and oil refineries blocked by protesters.
Paris' Metro, bus and suburban rail services are all expected to be badly disrupted and about half of the country's high-speed TGV trains have been canceled. TER and Intercites train services are also running a reduced timetable.
The trash piles flowing over into the streets of the capital, currently estimated at 10,000 tons, were left uncollected for another day.
Directorate General for Civil Aviation said that around a third of flights in and out of Orly airport outside Paris would be affected.
International travel is also being hit with the cross-channel Eurostar train service canceling six of Thursday's 15 scheduled services between Paris and London -- three in each direction -- one London to Brussels service and one Amsterdam to London service.
The strikes also threatened to disrupt a three-day state visit by King Charles III and Queen-consort Camilla beginning Sunday with at least one French MP calling for it to be canceled and tram drivers saying they will not transport him. The royal couple is scheduled to take a tram into the center of Bordeaux as part of a visit to inaugurate a new British Consulate in the southern city.
The action comes one week after Macron forced his widely unpopular pensions reform bill through the National Assembly without a vote, bringing thousands of enraged protesters out onto the streets, and three days after his government survived two no-confidence votes.
"This reform isn't a luxury, it's not a pleasure, it's a necessity," a defiant Macron told French television ahead of the strikes, pledging to never back down.
"Do you think I enjoy passing this reform? No. The longer we wait, the more [the deficit] will deteriorate."
He did hold out an olive branch calling for dialogue with the unions and political opponents.
Macron said that protesters' anger had been taken into account and while they had a right to take to the streets, violence was unacceptable.
Macron got his legislation to raise the national pension age from 62 to 64 through the National Assembly by using a part of the French constitution that enables the government to pass a law without a vote by MPs.
The change is opposed by trade unions and the majority of people but Macron, who has made reform of the country's generous pension system the cornerstone of his presidency, says the country cannot afford the ballooning deficits it will run up over the next 25 years as the country's population ages.
Currently, there are just 1.7 workers for every pensioner in France, down from 2.1 in 2000.