King Charles’s France visit postponed as French civil strive escalates

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LONDON – Britain’s King Charles has postponed a state visit to France after social unrest over President Emmanuel Macron’s new pension law erupted into some of the worst street violence seen in years across the country.

Speaking at a news conference after a summit in Brussels on Friday, Macron said it would not have reflected “common sense and friendship” to “propose a visit in the middle of the demonstrations”.

He also condemned the violence that erupted during Thursday’s protests against raising the retirement age from 62 to 64, and said he would not give in to it.

“We will yield nothing to violence, I condemn violence with the utmost strength,” Macron said.

Macron is under pressure to find a way out of a crisis that has seen some of France’s worst street violence in years over unpopular pension reforms he has pushed through parliament without a vote.

Britain's King Charles III and Camilla, the Queen Consort arrive for a Service of Prayer and Reflection for the life of Queen Elizabeth II, at Llandaff Cathedral in Cardiff
Britain’s King Charles III and Camilla, the queen consort, arrive for a Service of Prayer and Reflection for the life of Queen Elizabeth II [File: Frank Augstein/Pool via AP]

The now-postponed visit by the UK monarch and his wife was meant to be Charles III’s first major foray on the international stage as king and a prestigious celebration of historic cross-Channel relations before he is officially crowned in May.

The 74-year-old monarch and Queen Consort Camilla, who had been due in Paris on Sunday, “greatly look forward to the opportunity to visit France as soon as dates can be found”, Buckingham Palace said.

Macron said Charles’s visit would likely be rescheduled for the beginning of summer.

The UK government said Macron had requested the postponement.

The postponement avoids a situation of the royal couple being caught up in demonstrations, and even protocol faux pas, after striking workers threatened to withhold red carpets for the tour.

On the French side, too, Macron would have been mindful of the public relations implications of wining and dining a high-profile foreign dignitary as tear gas and smoke choke French cities.

French citizens angry at Macron’s pension reforms engaged in scattered protest actions on Friday.

The protests and labour strikes against Macron’s decision had already promised to affect the visit, with workers refusing to roll out the red carpet for the king’s arrival.

More than 450 protesters were arrested in Paris and beyond as some 300 demonstrations on Thursday drew more than a million people nationwide. Polls show that most French people oppose having to work two more years before retiring, which Macron says is necessary to keep the pension system afloat.

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said 441 police officers and gendarmes were injured as violence marred some marches and anger mounted. He added that 1,000 rubbish bins were set on fire in the French capital; overflowing rubbish cans have become a symbol of the protests during a weeks-long strike by sanitation workers.