The interior minister said hundreds of police officers had been injured during the most violent days of the protests since they began in January.
The French authorities arrested 457 people during National protests Against French President Emmanuel Macron’s pension reform as unions called for more demonstrations.
Speaking to CNews, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said 903 fires were set on the streets of the capital, Paris, on Thursday.
A total of 441 security forces were injured during clashes that were by far the most violent day of demonstrations since they began in January, even as hundreds of thousands of people across the country took part in mostly peaceful demonstrations.
“There were a lot of demonstrations and some of them turned violent, especially in Paris,” Darmanin said Friday morning.
Reporting from Paris, Al Jazeera’s Natasha Butler said there had been more than 200 protests and strikes across France, most of them peaceful.
“But there were some serious violent incidents in Paris, where police and some protesters clashed,” she added. “There were scenes of virtual chaos.”
Police warned that “anarchist” groups were expected to infiltrate the Paris rally, and young men in hoods and balaclavas were seen smashing windows and setting piles of rubbish on fire in the final stages of the demonstration against the government’s plan to raise the retirement age from 62 to 64.
Darmanin, a right-wing hardliner in Macron’s centrist government, rejected protesters’ calls to withdraw the party. Pension reform Who acquitted parliament last week in controversial circumstances.
He said, “I don’t think we should withdraw this bill because of the violence.” If so, then it means that there is no state. We must accept a democratic and social debate, but not a violent debate.”
Elsewhere on Thursday, the entrance to the town hall in the southwestern city of Bordeaux was set on fire during clashes.
“I find it difficult to understand and accept this kind of vandalism,” Mayor Pierre Hormec told RTL radio on Friday.
“Why do you make the building of our society a goal for all the people of Bordeaux? I can only condemn it in the strongest terms possible.”
On Friday, Butler said, people across the French political spectrum condemned the violence, saying it was unacceptable.
“Although there are a number of people who also say that this is what happens when people demonstrate peacefully for a long time but are not heard; then they resort to other methods – sometimes violence – in order to be heard.”
Meanwhile, unions have called for more strikes and protests on Tuesday, which will coincide with a state visit by the UK’s new king, Charles III, his first international trip since ascending to the throne in September 2022.
Separately, the Iranian government urged France to listen to the protesters and avoid violence.
“The French government should talk to its people and listen to their voices,” Nasser Kanaani, a spokesman for Iran’s foreign ministry, said on Twitter.
He added, “We do not support destruction or rioting, but we affirm that instead of creating chaos in other countries, listen to the voice of your people and avoid violence against them.”
Al-Kinani was referring to criticism, including from France, of Iran’s response to the months-long protests sparked by the death of a 22-year-old woman after she was arrested for allegedly violating Iran’s strict dress code for women.