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Forecast podcast: Hundreds arrested as French streets set alight in pension reform unrest

Hundreds of protesters demonstrate in France. They have a large banner in front with some placards raised over the crowd.

Editors Jimmy Lovaas and Jess Fino discuss the protests in France over a controversial pension reform plan, plus more on a European Council summit in Sweden, fewer curfew hours in Kyiv, parliamentary elections in Cuba and a Pakistani court summons for former Prime Minister Imran Khan.

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These stories and others are also available in our free weekly Forecast newsletter.

These stories and others are also available in our free weekly Forecast newsletter.

This episode was produced with work from Factal editors Jaime Calle Moreno, Alex Moore, Owen Bonertz, Awais Ahmad and Jess Fino.  Music courtesy of Andrew Gospe

Have feedback, suggestions or events we’ve missed? Drop us a note:

Factal Forecast podcast transcript

This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.


Welcome to the Factal Forecast, a look at the week’s biggest stories and what they mean from the editors at Factal. I’m Jimmy Lovaas.

Today is March 23.

In this week’s forecast we’ve got a European Council summit in Sweden, fewer curfew hours in Kyiv, parliamentary elections in Cuba, a Pakistani court summons for former Prime Minister Imran Khan and a look at the protests in France.

You can also read about these stories and more in our weekly newsletter, you’ll find a link to that in the show notes.

Euro Summit

Information compiled by Jaime Calle Moreno

JIMMY: The European Council will meet for a summit in Gothenburg, Sweden, today and tomorrow. All EU countries’ heads of state are expected to attend.

European leaders will discuss primarily how to boost the union’s economy, as well as its competitiveness globally

Following the financial scare directly after Silicon Valley Bank’s demise, some reforms may include easing ways of gaining financial aid from states, creating banking unions, and finding other ways to tackle the United States’ Inflation Reduction Act. 

Ukraine will also undoubtedly be discussed, as UN Chief Antonio Guterres has been invited to attend the summit. That, after earlier this week the EU agreed to send a million rounds of artillery shells to Ukraine through the EU’s varying defense funds.

Now, while the main points will focus on the EU’s immediate economic and financial future, the continent’s leaders are also set to decide what form continued military aid to Ukraine should take. 

It is yet to be seen what kind of decisions, if any, will be made on improving competitiveness and the economic situation Europe finds itself in, and whether or not there are issues underlying military aid to Ukraine.

Kyiv shortens curfew

Information compiled by Alex Moore

JIMMY: Ukrainian authorities are shortening the amount of time citizens in Kyiv will have to curfew starting Sunday.

The curfew in Kyiv was initially put in place immediately following Russia’s full invasion of Ukraine more than a year ago. 

As Moscow’s Kyiv offensive applied heavy pressure to the city, authorities mandated a 5 p.m. to 8 a.m. daily curfew. 

Curfew hours have since been steadily relaxed in the wake of Russia’s doomed Kyiv offensive, however, with the latest easing coming just days prior to the one-year anniversary of Russia’s announcing its full withdrawal from northern Ukraine.

Now, shortening the curfew moves Kyiv closer to relative normalcy and allows for increased public transportation and commerce. 

It could also entice Ukrainian refugees to return to Kyiv at higher rates. 

Russia’s invasion precipitated the largest refugee crisis in Europe since World War II. 

While nearly 20 million people initially fled Ukraine, approximately 11 million have since returned as Russia’s invasion faltered and fighting became concentrated in the south and east. 

And while Kyiv and western cities remain vulnerable to relatively consistent missile barrages, moves to return to more normalcy could initiate more returns from the 8 million refugees that remain in Europe.

Cuba parliamentary elections

Information compiled by Owen Bonertz

JIMMY: Cuban voters will participate in largely symbolic one-party elections on Sunday. They’ll choose the country’s National Assembly of People’s Power.

Of course, Cuba’s election system is largely predetermined. Nonprofit research institute Freedom House gives the country a 1 out of 40 possible points for political rights

Roughly half of the 470 National Assembly candidates are chosen by local workers’ collectives

And under the 2019 constitution, assembly members choose the president, who in turn chooses the prime minister. 

As you may recall, Miguel Diaz-Canel was nearly unanimously voted in as president to succeed Raul Castro in 2019, and his prime minister Manuel Marrero was quickly confirmed.

Now, turnout in November 2022’s municipal elections was at the lowest in 40 years following opposition campaigns to boycott the process. 

Many Cubans believed the resignation of Fidel Castro’s brother Raul would bring about greater democracy through the 2019 constitution. 

Despite this, Diaz-Canel will likely be reelected as president. 

Cuba’s economy has struggled since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, with record numbers of emigration and inflation in the triple digits

The Cuban opposition has not called for a boycott, but general dissatisfaction with the country’s economy could spark backlash in terms of rare protests or low turnout.

Pakistan court summons Imran Khan

Information compiled by Awais Ahmad

JIMMY: A Pakistani court in Islamabad has summoned former Prime Minister Imran Khan to appear before a judge next Thursday. The appearance is over charges he sold state gifts while in office. 

The summons comes after police arrested dozens of Khan’s supporters following multiple days of clashes outside his Lahore residence during an attempted arrest raid last week. 

His supporters clashed later with police in Islamabad, too, as he arrived to make an official court appearance. 

Khan has blamed the government for not providing adequate security for him to appear for his court proceedings and says there is an active threat to his life. 

Now, the clashes between police and Khan’s supporters have brought chaos to the country which is already facing a worsening economic crisis

Khan has alleged that the current administration and the military establishment are using the court cases to prevent him from participating in the next elections in November.

French protests

Information compiled by Jess Fino

JIMMY: Our last item for this forecast is on the protests that have gripped France recently. For more on that I’ve got fellow editor Jess Fino.

JIMMY: Hello, Jess!

JESS: Hi, Jimmy!

JIMMY: You know, Jess, let’s just jump right into this. I guess to start, can you kind of explain what started these protests? 

JESS: Sure, so to explain the origin of these protests we need to go as far back as 2019, when French President Emmanuel Macron announced plans to reform the pension system in the country as he believed the current system was not sustainable. In France, the retirement age is currently at 62, which is below the European average. Under the government proposal, the pension age will rise to 64 and people would contribute one additional year. The general population has really been fighting back this reform, as there is a common belief that life begins when work ends. The problem is, with the aging population, there has been a big increase in the number of retirees, and predictions estimate that within a decade, if nothing is done, the pension system would begin to fall in[to a] huge deficit.

JIMMY: And where does the pension reform plan stand now? 

JESS: So this has been a big week in France so far. After years of delays because of the coronavirus pandemic, of course, a plan has been formally introduced and on Monday the parliament adopted the pension reforms under French law after a vote of no confidence failed. However, opposition MPs have pledged to continue their fight against the controversial law and they have a few options on the table. So, some parties have referred the matter to the constitutional council and others have called for a referendum on the issue and even fresh elections to elect a new government.

JIMMY: And then meanwhile a lot of people have taken to the streets. Have you seen any violence attached to these protests? 

JESS: Yes, you can say that. So, there is a large number of peaceful protests and workers protesting by not turning up to work but major cities across France have seen violent protests as a result of this reform. This Monday after the parliament vote, unrest erupted in several places, mainly in Paris, which led to more than 200 arrests. Police have been responding with tear gas in efforts to disperse crowds but that hasn’t really deterred people. We often see videos of tires burning, [Molotov cocktails] being thrown and riot police deployed in the streets in large numbers. And this has not only been in Paris, the unrest has really been noticed across the whole country. And even the peaceful protests have had their effects, with gas stations facing shortages as refinery workers continue to strike, blocking access to depots. When the government requested workers at a gas deposit to return to work this Tuesday, clashes broke out between officers and protesters.

JIMMY: Well, you know, considering all that, what do you think folks should be watching for next? 

JESS: So, a new strike action is taking place today with thousands of protesters expected to take the streets again. We can expect further clashes as people are really angry about this, it is something that they deeply care about and this anger is not just going to go away. Macron yesterday gave a rare televised interview where he attempted to calm the situation and reaffirm his faith in the government as he himself faces a low popularity rating right now as a result of this. His current popularity rating has dropped to around 30 percent as a result of him wanting to go ahead with this law. So in summary, I would continue watching for further unrest and watching to see what the opposition attempts to do next in order to avert this reform.

JIMMY: Well, I think we’ll leave it there for today, but I thank you so much for getting us all caught up to speed and I appreciate it. 

JESS: Yeah, thanks for having me.

JIMMY: Take care.

JIMMY: As always, thank you for listening to the Factal Forecast. We publish our forward-looking podcast and newsletter each Thursday to help you get a jump-start on the week ahead. Please subscribe and review wherever you find your podcasts. We’d love it if you’d consider telling a friend about us.  

Today’s episode was produced with work from Factal editors Jaime Calle Moreno, Alex Moore, Owen Bonertz and Awais Ahmad. Our interview featured editor Jess Fino and our music comes courtesy of Andrew Gospe.

Until next time, if you have any feedback, suggestions or events we’ve missed, drop us a note by emailing

This transcript may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability not guaranteed. 

Copyright © 2023 Factal. All rights reserved.

Music: ‘Factal Theme’ courtesy of Andrew Gospe

Top photo: 8th major demonstration for the defense of pensions. Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators throughout France once again. A Paris, des Invalides à la place d’Italie. By Jeanne Menjoulet (CC-BY 2.0)

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