By Yusuf Hatip
BRUSSELS (AA) - Protesters mobilized across France on Thursday in a nationwide strike challenging President Emmanuel Macron’s controversial pension reform plans.
The Interior Ministry said 806,000 people took part, while labor unions put the number at nearly 1.5 million.
Some 250,000 people took part in the protests in Paris, where police used smoke bombs to disperse the crowd.
The "unlimited" strike impacted all public transport systems in the country, according to local media reports.
A total of 90 people have been arrested so far in Paris, police said.
Some train, subway and bus services were canceled and many schools were closed while the law and order situation led to the cancelation of 20% of flights to the country.
In a tweet, the Paris Police Department said it had conducted 6,476 checks. Labor unions said the strike will continue until Monday.
The Gare du Nord, a station of the SNCF railway network in Paris, was almost empty in the morning, according to broadcaster France 24.
Protesters, however, made their way to the Gare du Nord in the afternoon to attend the main march to Place de la Nation square.
They included police, healthcare professionals, teachers, lawyers, taxi and freight drivers, postal workers, farmers, civil servants, refinery workers and students, according to the Le Monde daily.
The walkout came after the government announced its determination to implement pension reform despite a nationwide outcry.
According to France’s National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies, Macron has further fueled the "sense of anger and rebellion" among French people against their president with his economic policies that have given wealthy people a greater share of national income since his inauguration on May 17, 2017.
He has been facing the biggest crisis since the beginning of the Yellow Vest protests in October last year.
- Proposed reform
France currently has 42 different pension programs for different sectors, but the government proposed to unify them into one pension scheme.
France’s current program is based on the principle of solidarity between generations under which the working population finances the pensioners of that year.
But due to the aging population, fewer people are paying into the current system.
To fix this, the government introduced a point-based system that would compensate workers with pension points for every day they work or every euro they contribute.
The reform would lift the privileges granted to civil servants and gradually increase the retirement age from 62 to 64, a move expected to adversely affect many sectors.
Workers will get a full pension if they retire at the age of 64. If they retired before, they would lose 5% of their pensions for every year they retire early.
They would also gain a 5% increase in their pensions for every year if they retire after the age of 64.
The demonstrations and strikes have been supported by numerous labor and police unions as well as the Yellow Vests.
Macron paused his overseas visits for a while to focus on a solution to the problems caused by the strikes and demonstrations.