Paris Opera musicians serenade public in pension reform protest

Striking musicians and singers of the Paris Opera staged an open-air concert on Saturday in front of the city's historic opera house in protest against a pension reform that seeks to end their special retirement scheme.

Orchestra members and singers performed well-known airs by Verdi and Bizet in a half-hour event outside the Opera Garnier building, ending with a rendition of the Marseillaise.

The musicians were cheered on by colleagues including ballerinas who last month performed scenes from Swan Lake at the same spot in a similar protest over the proposed pensions overhaul.

The event drew applause from passers-by on a sunny winter's afternoon in the French capital, where performances by the Paris Opera have been cancelled for the past month due to the strike by artists who want to preserve centuries-old retirement provisions.

"We're so unhappy about not being able to give our shows that we're performing in a different way, in the street, to show the public that we're not on holiday," Fabien Wallerand, a tuba player in the Paris Opera's orchestra, told Reuters.

Protesters clash with police elsewhere in Paris

Elsewhere in Paris, thousands of demonstrators, including “Yellow Vests”, took to the streets shouting slogans against police brutality, President Emmanuel Macron and his pension reforms. They were greeted with tear gas by French police on Saturday, which also arrested several people.

Police said 15 people were arrested after authorities tried to disperse a bloc at the head of the protest in northern Paris, before coming under a hail of projectiles, AFP reporters witnessed.

This was the latest of the weekly demonstrations held every Saturday by the "Yellow Vest" movement since November 2018, which have joined the opposition to the pension reforms.

"We're suffocating with this government who wants to put us on our knees," Annie Moukam, a 58-year-old teacher, said.

"It's out of the question that he (Macron) touches our pensions. We have worked all our lives to be able to leave with a dignified retirement," she said. "It's exactly that that he is challenging."

Saturday’s rallies also came on the 45th day of a strike that has hit train and metro traffic and caused misery for millions of commuters in Paris especially.

Trains are becoming more frequent however, and Paris's metro drivers voted to suspend their action from Monday, their union Unsa announce Saturday.

Under an arrangement dating back to 1698 and the reign of Louis XIV, Paris Opera dancers can retire on a full pension at the age of 42, singers at 57 and musicians at 60.

President Emmanuel Macron's plan to merge France's various pension schemes into a single system has triggered more than a month of strikes, particularly in public transport. However, concessions by the government, notably a delay to a move to raise the age at which workers can claim a full pension from 62 to 64, have contributed to a waning in strikes.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)