FRANCE | PAKISTAN
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Protests TO CONTINUE, Causing Widespread Disruption
The French government's recent decision to push through a pension reform bill has resulted in widespread protests and strikes, impacting security, transportation, and businesses across the nation. Paris has seen the most impact from riots and strikes, resulting in property damage, piles of garbage along streets, and airport operations disruptions. Hundreds of thousands of people have participated across the country.
On 16 March, President Emmanuel Macron's government invoked Article 49.3, a special constitutional power, to push through a pension reform bill that raises the retirement age from 62 to 64. The government claims the reform is necessary due to a projected annual deficit of EUR 10 billion between 2022 and 2032. The National Assembly subsequently rejected two no-confidence motions, allowing the pension reform bill to become law. This has triggered nationwide strikes and protests, which are expected to continue and possibly intensify.
Protests and Impact
Trade unions, including the CGT, FO, CFE-CGC, UGICT, and Unsa have launched strikes that have heavily affected ground, rail, and air transportation, including in major cities like Paris, Lyon, and Marseille. Flights have been disrupted at multiple airports, while services on the RATP network in the greater Paris area and the SNCF network nationwide have been severely impacted. Unionized port and dock workers have also joined the strikes, disrupting port traffic. Additionally, around 20 percent of petrol stations have reported fuel shortages due to refinery workers' strikes.
Frequent protest sites in Paris include Place Vauban, Place de la Concorde, Place de la République, Place de la Nation, Place de la Bastille, Place d'Italie, Boulevard Beaumarchais, Avenue de la République, and the National Assembly.
While many protests have been peaceful, others have escalated to violence, with instances of rioting, property damage, and clashes between demonstrators and security forces. Hundreds of people, including police officers, have been injured amid the unrest.
- Nationwide protests and strikes are causing significant disruptions to transportation services, including flights, trains, and urban public transport.
- Major urban hubs, such as Paris, Lyon, and Marseille, are experiencing increased risk due to clashes between protesters and security forces.
- Travelers to and within France should anticipate disruptions and potential delays, confirm updated itineraries prior to departure, and avoid all demonstrations due to the risk of violence. The majority of protests begin in afternoon hours and violence typically doesn’t break out until evening hours.
- Residents and businesses in affected areas should stay informed of situational updates through local media and be prepared for continued disruptions.
In the near term, disruptions to travel and transportation services are expected to continue, particularly in Paris and other major cities. With the pension reform bill set to become law, protests and strikes are likely to intensify. Additional nationwide protests are planned this week.
Pakistan’s Three-Headed Crisis Continues Despite Improvements in Economic Outlook
Pakistan’s three-headed crisis continues, decreasing the country’s stability. Politically, opposition leader Imran Khan and his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party continue to challenge Pakistan’s political system despite the legal campaign to disqualify Khan—the former prime minister and current most popular political figure—from running in this year’s elections. The security situation continues to deteriorate as the government recently declared an “all-out comprehensive operation” to stamp out terrorism akin to its 2014 push to oust militants from the northwest region bordering Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, Pakistan is closer to staving off default as Saudi Arabia has now pledged financing support, bringing it closer to receiving the next $1 billion tranche of the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) bailout package. However, as part of the IMF’s deal, Pakistan has hiked fuel prices and taxes, increasing inflation to all-time highs. Further protests and terror activity can be expected in the near term.
- Global Guardian continues to warn against all travel to Balochistan and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa provinces, as well as the areas of Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) and Gilgit-Baltistan near the Line of Control (LoC).
- Monitoring the political situation and making contingency plans is essential for all travel to Pakistan, especially for travel to Punjab Province
- Having secure transportation with protection agents attuned to the local political situation is essential for all business travel to Pakistan.
In March 2022, opposition parties, including the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), submitted a no-confidence motion over Khan’s alleged economic mismanagement, disregard for procedural norms, and most importantly, his major foreign policy rift with the military. Since his removal from power last year, Khan has been dealt dozens of charges—that are ostensibly politically motivated—including some for which he faces arrest. These include corruption, terrorism, contempt of courts, rioting, and blasphemy. The terrorism charges over publicly naming and shaming a particular judge bears the potential to disqualify Khan from running for or holding public office. Khan is on interim bail for three cases, which is set to expire on 13 April.
- 07 March – The Islamabad High Court issued an arrest warrant on corruption charges against the former prime minister, but he avoided arrest and instead filed a petition in the same court to cancel the warrant.
- 13 March – Khan skips Islamabad court appearance, citing threats on his life.
- 14 March – PTI activists and police continued to clash while roads leading to PTI Chairman Imran Khan’s house in Lahore’s Zaman Park were also blocked overnight on 14-15 March, after police tried to serve an arrest warrant to Khan over a graft case. Power cuts were reported in Zaman Park. Similar PTI protests and clashes were reported in other cities nationwide including in Karachi, Islamabad, Rawalpindi, and Peshawar.
- 04 April – The Pakistan Supreme Court ordered Punjab province to hold provincial assembly elections on May 14. This came after the Court deemed the election commission's decision to delay the elections due to security risks and financial constraints as unconstitutional.
- 05 April – PTI activists rallied nationwide, including at Liberty Chowk in Lahore, Lyari in Karachi, Multan, Dadu, Faisalabad, Rawalpindi, Vehari, Bahawalpur, DG Khan, Sargodha, Gujranwala, Okara, and Hyderabad to mark the Supreme Court verdict ordering officials to hold elections on 14 May in Punjab province. No clashes or arrests were immediately reported.
- 07 April – The leader and founder of the Baloch National Army (BNA) militant group, Shambay, was arrested in a security raid. The arrest of Shambay, a significant setback for the BNA and other Baloch militant groups, may trigger blowback in southwestern Pakistan, where Baloch separatists have been fighting for an independent state for years. The threat is expected to remain confined to the restive Balochistan Province.
- 07 April – Pakistan's National Security Committee announced it would launch a comprehensive counter terror operation with further details to be announced.
Further clashes between PTI supporters and police can be expected as authorities attempt to arrest Khan. The planned military operation presages a further increase in violence throughout the country. The government may use this military operation or future terror attacks stemming from the operation to delay the critical 14 May Punjab elections. The government is desperate to prevent Khan’s PTI from dominating the polls in the provincial elections of the country’s most populous area.
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