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French government to push through divisive pension changes

PARIS – French President Emmanuel Macron’s government is set to push through divisive pension changes in the lower house of parliament amid protests from opposition lawmakers and labor unions.

Thousands of people took to the streets of Paris and other cities Tuesday to denounce the pension plans they fear will force people to work longer for less money.

Demonstrations follow Prime Minister Edouard Philippe's decision last week to use a constitutional power that allows the bill to pass through the National Assembly without a vote.

In response, opposition lawmakers from the left and from the right have called two non-confidence votes Tuesday against Macron's centrist government. The votes have almost no chance of success as Macron's party has a large majority in the National Assembly.

The bill will then go to the Senate.

The government hopes to accelerate the complex legislative process to pass the law by summer.

Debates on the bill in the National Assembly were slowed by a record 41,000 amendments proposed by the opposition.

In parallel, the government opened a three-month discussion with unions about financing the pension system, including potential measures to raise taxes or the retirement age. The hard-left CGT and FO unions, which are opposing the changes, said this week they won’t take part in the talks anymore.

The pension overhaul was a key promise in Macron's 2017 presidential campaign. Macron argues the new system, which aims to unify 42 state-funded pension regimes, will be fairer and more sustainable.

The changes would end some specific pension schemes under which certain people, like railway workers, are allowed to take early retirement and others, like lawyers, pay less taxes. Weeks of strikes and protests in December and January have hobbled public transportation and disrupted schools, hospitals, courthouses and even opera houses.