King Charles visit canceled as France burns – POLITICO
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PARIS — King Charles’ visit to France was postponed on Friday as protests over pension reform continue to rock the country.
French President Emmanuel Macron said he suggested postponing the trip during a phone call with Charles on Friday, in a move that made “common sense” given the unrest in France.
“It would have been abhorrent (…) to have tried to maintain the trip with the risk of incidents,” he told reporters at a press conference in Brussels. The visit was to be Charles’ first overseas visit as a British monarch.
France has faced social unrest and outbursts of violence since Macron forced a deeply unpopular pension reform last week, using a controversial constitutional maneuver to circumvent a vote in parliament. A day of nationwide protests descended into chaos on Thursday, with ongoing battles between police and protesters and fires set in Paris. More than 450 people were arrested overnight after hours of violence in which 400 police officers were injured.
Unions have announced a new day of protests for Tuesday, a move that raises fears of further disruption to Charles’ itinerary in France.
“The decision has been taken to welcome His Majesty King Charles III under the conditions which correspond to our friendship”, indicates a press release issued by the Elysée.
A UK government spokesperson said: “The King and Queen Consort’s state visit to France has been postponed. This decision was taken with the consent of all parties, after the French president asked the British government to postpone the visit.
In France, opposition parties hailed the decision to postpone after accusing Macron of ignoring the discontent expressed on the streets.
“The meeting of kings at Versailles was disrupted by popular disapproval,” tweeted far-left leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon. “British people know that (Home Secretary) Darmanin sucks at providing security.”
While the cancellation means Macron is avoiding the possibility of a diplomatic incident with the British, it has also been seen as an admission of a deepening political crisis in France.
On Friday, the French president pushed back against accusations that he was no longer able to govern the country.
“I really don’t think that’s the case. The pension reform continues its democratic process. Parliament is still functioning. We keep moving forward, we can’t stop,” he said.
Mountains of trash and no red carpet
Charles and Queen Consort Camilla were due to arrive on Sunday for a highly symbolic three-day trip aimed at sealing the renewed friendship between France and the UK. It was planned after the recent France-UK summit in Paris, where Rishi Sunak and Macron spoke of ‘a moment of reunion’ and planned just weeks after a post-Brexit trade deal eased relations between the two countries.
The French did everything possible to welcome the new king in style. A gala dinner at the Palace of Versailles and a parade with 140 mounted Republican Guards on the Champs-Elysées were among the items on the agenda. Charles was to spend time in Paris and Bordeaux, before leaving for Germany. The German part of the visit is still expected to continue.
But last week, protests against Macron’s reform, which raises the legal retirement age from 62 to 64, turned into violent explosions in several cities. French and British figures have in recent days expressed concern that Charles’ first visit abroad will be disrupted or overshadowed.
Concerns prior to Charles’ arrival ranged from trivial to major. Paris has been hit by strikes by waste pickers, resulting in mountains of rubbish piling up in the streets – an unlikely setting for a visiting king. Strikers from the French administration also briefly threatened to refuse to roll out the red carpet for the British monarch.
There were also fears that protesters would attempt to directly disrupt Charles’ route.
“Charles III, we will welcome him with a good old general strike,” warned the spokesperson for the far-left NPA party.
With accusations of despotism swirling around Macron, fueled by the leftist coalition NUPES, the pomp and ceremony surrounding the state visit was also seen as sending the wrong signals to the French president.
On Friday, Macron promised a new date would be set for early summer.