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Police vehicles were set on fire by a rampaging mob using Molotov cocktails in France today as rioting that led to the cancellation of a state visit by King Charles continued.

Thousands fought running battles with heavy armed officers at an illegal gathering on Saturday at Sainte-Soline, near Poitiers.

They were protesting against the deployment of new water-storage centre, as well as President Emmanuel Macron pushing the retirement age up from 60 to 62 without a parliamentary vote.

‘Police have completely lost control,’ said one of the demonstrators at Saint-Soline.

‘Vehicles have been set on fire using Molotov cocktails, and officers are running away, while firing tear gas cannisters at us.’

A gendarmerie vehicle burns during a demonstration on the construction site of new water storage infrastructure for agricultural irrigation, Sainte-Soline, today

A gendarmerie vehicle burns during a demonstration on the construction site of new water storage infrastructure for agricultural irrigation, Sainte-Soline, today

Protesters evacuate a wounded demonstrator during a rally called by the collective "Bassines non merci", the environmental movement "Les Soulevements de la Terre" and the French trade union 'Confederation paysanne'

Protesters evacuate a wounded demonstrator during a rally called by the collective ‘Bassines non merci’, the environmental movement ‘Les Soulevements de la Terre’ and the French trade union ‘Confederation paysanne’

An estimated 6,000 had turned up to the protest ¿ ecological demonstrators swelled by those demonstrating against Macron's retirement reforms

An estimated 6,000 had turned up to the protest – ecological demonstrators swelled by those demonstrating against Macron’s retirement reforms

Riot mobile gendarmes, riding quad bikes, fire teargas shells towards protesters during a demonstration in Sainte-Soline today

Riot mobile gendarmes, riding quad bikes, fire teargas shells towards protesters during a demonstration in Sainte-Soline today

A police spokesman said: ‘Explosives are being used against us, and we are trying to bring the situation under control.

‘There are radicals in the crowd who are trying to severely injure the forces of law and order.’

He said an estimated 6,000 had turned up to the protest – ecological demonstrators swelled by those demonstrating against Mr Macron’s retirement reforms.

The controversial Sainte-Soline water reserve is one of 16 installations developed by a group of 400 farmers to reduce mains water usage in summer.

Opponents claim these so-called ‘megabasins’ are reserved for large export-oriented grain farms, and work against the local community.

It follows more than a week of intense social disorder across France that made cancelling the Charles III’s visit inevitable.

Threats made against him included the words ‘Death to the King’- a macabre message that was scrawled by protesters on walls in Paris.

They prompted Mr Macron to say: ‘I think it would not be responsible and would lack some common sense if we invited His Majesty the King and the Queen Consort for a state visit in the midst of the demonstrations.’

Senior politicians including Mr Macron had received threats evoking the guillotine used to execute Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette – the last rightful king and queen of France.

The words ‘Death to the King’ had even appeared in bright red graffiti on Place de la Concorde – the central Paris square where Louis and his wife were killed.

French gendarmes' cars burn on the sideline of a demonstration over the construction of a new water reserve for agricultural irrigation

French gendarmes’ cars burn on the sideline of a demonstration over the construction of a new water reserve for agricultural irrigation

Smoke rises from a burning vehicle during a demonstration called by the collective "Bassines Non Merci" against the "basins" on the construction site of new water storage infrastructure for agricultural irrigation in western France, in Sainte-Soline, today

Smoke rises from a burning vehicle during a demonstration called by the collective ‘Bassines Non Merci’ against the ‘basins’ on the construction site of new water storage infrastructure for agricultural irrigation in western France, in Sainte-Soline, today

Protesters clash with riot mobile gendarmes during a demonstration called by the collective 'Bassines non merci' today

Protesters clash with riot mobile gendarmes during a demonstration called by the collective ‘Bassines non merci’ today

Protesters, surrounded by tear gas, clash with riot mobile gendarmes during a demonstration

Protesters, surrounded by tear gas, clash with riot mobile gendarmes during a demonstration

The controversial Sainte-Soline water reserve is one of 16 installations developed by a group of 400 farmers to reduce mains water usage in summer

The controversial Sainte-Soline water reserve is one of 16 installations developed by a group of 400 farmers to reduce mains water usage in summer

Opponents claim these so-called ‘megabasins’ are reserved for large export-oriented grain farms, and work against the local community

Protesters, surrounded by tear gas, clash with riot mobile gendarmes during a demonstration called by the collective "Bassines non merci"

Protesters, surrounded by tear gas, clash with riot mobile gendarmes during a demonstration called by the collective ‘Bassines non merci’

A gendarmerie vehicle burns during a demonstration on the construction site of new water storage infrastructure for agricultural irrigation

A gendarmerie vehicle burns during a demonstration on the construction site of new water storage infrastructure for agricultural irrigation

Protesters attend a demonstration in Sainte-Soline today as France continued to be engulfed by protests

Protesters attend a demonstration in Sainte-Soline today as France continued to be engulfed by protests

Police vehicles were set on fire by a rampaging mob using Molotov cocktails in France today as rioting that led to the cancellation of a state visit by King Charles continued

Police vehicles were set on fire by a rampaging mob using Molotov cocktails in France today as rioting that led to the cancellation of a state visit by King Charles continued

Another scrawled message read ‘Charles III do you know the guillotine?’

The French feared the security of King Charles could not be guaranteed ‘because of his interest in mingling with crowds,’ according to security sources.

A crack team of officers from the SDLP Protection Service unit rigorously studied the monarch’s profile.

‘They became aware of the King’s habit of impromptu handshakes, and talking to ordinary people whenever he could,’ said a source who was involved in the planning of four-days of events.

‘There are huge social tensions in France, and there is no doubt that such good manners could have been very dangerous indeed.’

The development was a major humiliation for Mr Macron, especially as a visit to Germany by the Royal couple next week will go ahead as planned.

Eric Ciotti, leader of the opposition Republicans party in France, said the chaotic security situation was a national embarrassment.

‘The visit of Charles III is cancelled by the government due to social unrest,’ said Mr Ciotti.

‘What an image for our country, which is not even able to ensure the security of a head of state’. 

Demonstration against pension reform took place in Bordeaux on Thursday. At the end of the demonstration, trash fires were set by some rioters

Demonstration against pension reform took place in Bordeaux on Thursday. At the end of the demonstration, trash fires were set by some rioters

Macron was said to have wanted King Charles’ visit to go ahead ‘until the last minute’ before he finally accepted that the situation was untenable amid nation-wide protest and rioting.

Sylvie Bermann, who served as Paris’ ambassador to Britain between 2014 and 2017, said it would have been ‘impossible’ for Macron to have hosted the King during civil unrest in the country. 

She added that a planned state banquet at the Palace of Versailles for Charles and Camilla while France burns would ‘not have given a good image’. 

Lord Ricketts, a former national security adviser, said the lavish Versailles dinner would have had ‘echoes’ of the French revolution if it had gone ahead during public outcry at Mr Macron’s decision to push back the national retirement age.

Police have been injured in protests that have seen hundreds arrested, with ugly scenes of rubbish build-ups and arson attacks.

Images of the town hall of Bordeaux – a city the royal couple were due to visit – set alight by protesters on Thursday evening were symbolic of the fury felt by some at the reforms.

Mr Macron is said to have spoken with the King to relay the reasons for needing to postpone the scheduled trip in a move that is being seen as embarrassing for the French leader.

Ms Bermann told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme it was a ‘real frustration’ to have to delay Charles’ visit after a breakthrough in cross-Channel relations.

Tensions arose between London and Paris during Boris Johnson’s premiership due to arguments over Brexit, Covid vaccines and the Aukus defence deal between the UK, US and Australia that usurped a submarine-building accord signed by France and Canberra.

Firefighters and Residents extinguish Burning trash who set fire on a building Rue Saint-Marc during a demonstration on Thursday

Firefighters and Residents extinguish Burning trash who set fire on a building Rue Saint-Marc during a demonstration on Thursday

Protesters march during a rally in Paris, Thursday. French unions are holding their first mass demonstrations since President Emmanuel Macron enflamed public anger by forcing a higher retirement age through parliament without a vote

Protesters march during a rally in Paris, Thursday. French unions are holding their first mass demonstrations since President Emmanuel Macron enflamed public anger by forcing a higher retirement age through parliament without a vote

Firemen extinguished the front door of the city hall of Bordeaux burned during a wild demonstration on Thursday

Firemen extinguished the front door of the city hall of Bordeaux burned during a wild demonstration on Thursday

Protesters stand next to riot police during a demonstration as part of the ninth day of nationwide strikes and protests against French government's pension reform, Paris, Thursday

Protesters stand next to riot police during a demonstration as part of the ninth day of nationwide strikes and protests against French government’s pension reform, Paris, Thursday

Riot police are struck by fireworks during violent clashes over the government's reform of the pension system on Thursday

Riot police are struck by fireworks during violent clashes over the government’s reform of the pension system on Thursday

Riot police scuffle with a protester during a rally in Paris on Thursday

Riot police scuffle with a protester during a rally in Paris on Thursday

But since Rishi Sunak became Prime Minister in October, relations have been noticeably warmer, with a UK-France summit earlier this month leading to an agreement to increase joint efforts to prevent migrants crossing the Channel to Britain in small boats.

The state visit was aimed at further strengthening ties between Britain and its continental neighbour using the ‘soft diplomacy’ deployed by members of the royal family.

Ms Bermann said: ‘It is a real frustration and I think until the last minute the president wanted to maintain the visit.

‘But it was impossible, not only because of security but because it wouldn’t have been the best conditions.

‘It is true that the dinner in Versailles would not have given a good image while there is unrest in France.’

Crossbench peer Lord Ricketts, who was the UK’s ambassador to France during the Queen’s final state visit to the country in 2014, told Today the violent demonstrations seen on Thursday were what ‘probably tipped the balance’.

He speculated that Buckingham Palace was likely ‘very happy’ to have accepted the Elysee Palace’s advice not to travel given the country’s unrest.

‘Much better that it should be postponed to a quieter time than it be overshadowed by a massive security situation and potentially awkward incidents,’ Lord Ricketts said.

French riot police stand as french union workers block access to the Fos-sur-Mer refinery during a protest against the French government's reform to the pension system

French riot police stand as french union workers block access to the Fos-sur-Mer refinery during a protest against the French government’s reform to the pension system

A broken billboard with graffiti reading 'useless Macron' is seen in a street the day after clashes during protests, Paris, France

A broken billboard with graffiti reading ‘useless Macron’ is seen in a street the day after clashes during protests, Paris, France

Employees clean up burnt garbage and damages in a street the day after clashes during protests over French government's pension reform

Employees clean up burnt garbage and damages in a street the day after clashes during protests over French government’s pension reform

He added: ‘I think when the state visit was planned, it was going to be the culmination of a period of real improvement in UK-French relations, marked by the summit between Rishi Sunak and Macron a couple of weeks ago.

‘The fact that there are now these violent protests which seem to be growing made, in particular, the idea of a banquet in Versailles a particularly bad idea.

‘That had all kinds of echoes from the past going back to the revolution.

‘Bordeaux looked to be difficult as well for the visit the King was planning to make.

‘So, as it turned out, the circumstances were not right, in which case it is right to postpone.’

The King and Queen Consort’s scheduled state visit to Germany, which had been due to take place after the French tour, is understood to be going ahead as planned.

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