French police fire tear gas against strikers who defy the Macron reform

* Macron seeks to simplify France's expensive pension system * Schools, hospitals, transport hit by strikes * Riot police fire tear gas at protesters in Paris, Nantes (Releads with tear gas fired, editions everywhere) By Sybille de La Hamaide and Marine Pennetier PARIS, Dec. 5 (Reuters) - Police fired tear gas at protesters in central Paris on Thursday and public transport stopped almost completely in one of the largest strikes in France for decades, with the aim of forcing the President Emmanuel Macron to get rid of a pension reform plan. The strike confronts Macron, a 41-year-old former investment banker who came to power in 2017 with the promise of opening France's highly regulated economy, against powerful unions that say he is determined to dismantle workers' protections. The result depends on who blinks first: the unions that run the risk of losing public support if the interruption continues for a long time, or the government that fears that voters can side with the unions and blame the officials for the confrontation . People can fix it today and tomorrow, but next week people may bother, said Isabelle Guibal, who owns a 56-year-old coffee. Rail workers voted to extend their strike until Friday, while Paris bus and metro operator unions RATP said their strike would continue until Monday. Macron wants to simplify France's difficult pension system, which includes more than 40 different plans, many with different ages and retirement benefits. Rail workers, sailors and ballet dancers of the Paris Opera can retire up to a decade earlier than the average worker. Macron says the system is unfair and too expensive. He wants a unique system based on points under which for each euro contributed, each pensioner has the same rights. In Paris, many travelers dusted the bicycles, turned to applications to share the car or worked from home to avoid falling in love with the limited train and subway services that operated in the morning rush hour. On Thursday afternoon, thousands of strikers marched from the Gare Du Nord in Paris to the city center. Problems broke out near the Republic Square in the capital, when some protesters set fire to a truck. Police responded by firing tear gas, Reuters witnesses said. PRESIDENT SWAGGER Macron has already survived a major challenge to his government, from the yellow vest base protesters who clashed with police and blocked roads around France for weeks earlier this year. After exiting that crisis, he is presumed on the world stage, publicly rebuking the president of the United States, Donald Trump, this week for his approach to the NATO alliance and counterterrorism. But pension reform, in which polls show that the French are evenly divided between supporters and opponents, is full of risks for him because he destroys the social protections that many French believe are at the heart of their national identity. . People are spoiling a fight, Christian Grolier, a senior official of the left-wing Ouvriere Force union who is helping to organize the strike, told Reuters. Airport workers, truckers and police join the strike at a time of widespread discontent towards Macron's drive to make France's economy more competitive and reduce public spending. French law requires that minimum public services be maintained during a strike. The state railway SNCF said that only one in 10 high-speed TGV trains would work and police reported that the power cables on the line between Paris and the Riviera had been shattered. The civil aviation authority asked airlines to cancel 20% of flights due to the effects of the strike. Previous attempts at pension reform have ended badly. The conservative government of former President Jacques Chirac in 1995 yielded to union demands after weeks of paralyzing protests. Protests in Paris were reflected, on a smaller scale, in other parts of France. In the cities of Lyon and Marseille, thousands more protesters carried banners that said Losing Macron and Do not touch our pensions. In Nantes, in eastern France, police fired tear gas at demonstrators. (Report by Caroline Pailliez, Geert de Clercq, Sybille de La Hamaide, Marine Pennetier, Laurence Frost in Paris and Guillaume Frouin in Nantes; Editing by Richard Lough; Editing by Christian Lowe and Alison Williams) This story has not been edited by The Times of India and is automatically generated from a syndicated feed to which we subscribe. (This story has not been edited by and is automatically generated from a syndicated feed to which we subscribe.)