mmanuel Macron’s favourite Paris restaurant was set ablaze today as anti-government demonstrators took part in another ‘Black Thursday’ of industrial action across France.
La Rotonde – the place where the head of state celebrated his 2017 presidential election win – was hit by rioters in the early afternoon.
“They arrived wearing balaclavas and used Molotov cocktails to start the blaze,” said an eyewitness.
“Riot police were watching a nearby march, but soon arrived in numbers, along with fire engines.”
Police had meanwhile made 20 arrests in the area by 5pm, as widespread disorder followed.
Flights were grounded and cross-Channel trains cancelled during other protests against President Macron raising the retirement age from 62 to 64 without a parliamentary vote.
Protesters stopped traffic around a mile from Paris Charles de Gaulle airport early on Thursday morning, meaning travellers were forced to walk.
“They are getting out of taxis and cars and trying to get to the terminals on foot,” said a local police spokesman.
“All carriageways have been closed to traffic by trade unionists, supported by other striking workers.
A Paris Airports spokesman confirmed that “Terminal 1 is blocked by activists, as well as road access to other areas.”
There was disruption on Eurostar high-speed rail services, with a spokesman saying: ‘There will be a general strike in France on 6 April, which could extend beyond this date.
“It will involve disruption across multiple sectors, including national rail services and it will have an impact on the availability of some of our crew.”
An early morning Eurostar train from Paris to London was cancelled, along with the corresponding return service.
Airlines have also been forced to cancel flights to, from and over France as air-traffic controllers join the industrial action.
British Airways has grounded around 20 flights that would have used French airspace.
Such scenes were replicated across France, as oil depots, town halls, ports, and other transport links were blockaded.
It came as a mass security operation rolled into action exactly three weeks after President Macron raised the retirement age.
There have been constant nighttime riots since the measure was forced through by decree.
The biggest march on Thursday was between Les Invalides – where Napoleon Bonaparte is buried – and Italy Square in Paris, where some 5000 police were on the streets.
Talks between prime minister Elisabeth Borne and the unions broke down after less than an hour on Wednesday, while Mr Macron is away visiting China.
Casualties of the ongoing violence and industrial paralysis in France have included a Royal State Visit.
King Charles and Camilla, the Queen Consort, cancelled the long-planned trip to Paris and Bordeaux last month, because of the escalating disturbances.
Beyond riots, anti-Macron protests in France have included some 10,000 tonnes of rubbish building up on the streets of Paris after binmen withdrew their labour.
Queues for passport checks by French officials at the Kent port are “up to 60 minutes”, ferry operator DFDS wrote on Twitter.
The company told passengers: “Unfortunately due to high volumes of traffic there are queues at border controls.”
In response, one passenger wrote: “We have been standing for 50 minutes. No movement whatsoever.”
The three ferry operators at the port – DFDS, Irish Ferries and P&O – are aiming to “spread the load” of coaches over three days from Thursday, with Friday expected to be the busiest day.
The port is also installing temporary infrastructure to speed up passport checks. The French border force, which does the checks, has promised to have a full rota of officials available.
Dover said in a statement: “It is the top priority of all parties to ensure a better experience for travellers this weekend.”
Gatwick Airport expects Easter Monday to be its busiest day. It is flying to 90 per cent of the destinations it offered passengers during the same period in 2019.
The RAC said 2.6m car journeys were expected to be made on Friday and on Sunday as drivers took advantage of the four-day break. The south-western section of the M25, between Heathrow and the M3, is likely to be extremely busy.
Transport minister Richard Holden said he was “hopeful” that everything was being done to avoid further problems.
Speaking to LBC, he denied extra passport checks required as a consequence of Brexit were to blame. “We’ve always seen issue around our road network at peak getaway times,” he said.
Avanti West Coast is unable to run trains in and out of Euston from Friday until next Tuesday due to engineering works on the West Coast Main Line over the Easter weekend at Watford.
Further north, Network Rail’s upgrade of the Carstairs junction means Avanti cannot run trains in or out of Glasgow and Edinburgh.
Passengers also face disruption elsewhere in London, with no Southern or Gatwick Express trains in and out of Victoria and the closure of the central section of the Elizabeth line, between Paddington and Abbey Wood.
The work on the West Coast Main Line at Watford means passengers will have to use a replacement bus service between Bedford and Milton Keynes.
Many Victoria services will be diverted to and from London Bridge. Maintenance work at Charing Cross means Southeastern services will run in and out of Cannon Street or Victoria.
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