Macron tries to calm tensions over retirement changes

Strikers march during a demonstration Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2020, in Marseille, southern France. Rail workers, teachers, doctors, lawyers and others joine...
Lawyers sit on the floor in the Lyon court house in Lyon, central France on Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2020, in front of posters referring to French Justice Mi...
FILE - In this Jan.10, 2020 file photo, French President Emmanuel Macron attends the Citizens' Convention for Climate held at the French 'Conseil econ...
Strikers march past a ferry held at the Marseille port during a demonstration Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2020, in Marseille, southern France. Rail workers, tea...
Strikers march during a demonstration Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2020, in Marseille, southern France. Rail workers, teachers, doctors, lawyers and others joine...
A striking member of the French communist party reacts during a demonstration Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2020 in Marseille, southern France. Rail workers, teac...
Strikers hold a sign that reads "general strike" in Marseille's old port during a demonstration Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2020, in Marseille, southern France....
A striker holds a smoke canister during a demonstration Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2020 in Marseille, southern France. Rail workers, teachers, doctors, lawyers...
Red smoke engulfs strikers during a demonstration Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2020 in Marseille, southern France. Rail workers, teachers, doctors, lawyers and o...
Strikers gather in Marseille's old port during a demonstration Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2020, in Marseille, southern France. Rail workers, teachers, doctors,...

Strikers march during a demonstration Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2020, in Marseille, southern France. Rail workers, teachers, doctors, lawyers and others joine...

Lawyers sit on the floor in the Lyon court house in Lyon, central France on Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2020, in front of posters referring to French Justice Mi...

FILE - In this Jan.10, 2020 file photo, French President Emmanuel Macron attends the Citizens' Convention for Climate held at the French 'Conseil econ...

Strikers march past a ferry held at the Marseille port during a demonstration Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2020, in Marseille, southern France. Rail workers, tea...

Strikers march during a demonstration Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2020, in Marseille, southern France. Rail workers, teachers, doctors, lawyers and others joine...

A striking member of the French communist party reacts during a demonstration Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2020 in Marseille, southern France. Rail workers, teac...

Strikers hold a sign that reads "general strike" in Marseille's old port during a demonstration Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2020, in Marseille, southern France....

A striker holds a smoke canister during a demonstration Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2020 in Marseille, southern France. Rail workers, teachers, doctors, lawyers...

Red smoke engulfs strikers during a demonstration Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2020 in Marseille, southern France. Rail workers, teachers, doctors, lawyers and o...

Strikers gather in Marseille's old port during a demonstration Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2020, in Marseille, southern France. Rail workers, teachers, doctors,...

PARIS (AP) — French President Emmanuel Macron tried Tuesday to calm nationwide tensions and salvage support for his overhaul of the country's retirement system, as France faced day 41 of crippling strikes.

Clutches of union activists gathered in Paris and other cities to demand that the government scrap the pension reform altogether. The plan's toughest opponents were unmoved by the prime minister's unexpected weekend decision to suspend a central measure: raising the full pension eligibility age from 62 to 64.

Struggling to save face and prevent new protest violence as his signature reform falters, Macron called for calm Tuesday and tried to show that he has heard protesters' concerns.

“We understand the reactions,” he told reporters in the southern city of Pau. “It’s a subject that legitimately worries people.”

“We never like change,” he said. “There were always strikes, and there always will be on this subject.”

The strikes have hobbled public transport and disrupted schools, hospitals, courthouses and even opera houses. While the number of striking workers has diminished since the movement began Dec. 5, several trains and Paris subways were still halted Tuesday.

Opponents fear the reform will force them to work longer for less money. Macron insisted that the current system of more than 42 special pension regimes, created after World War II, has become unfair and ill-suited to the current economy. The government also says it’s too costly in a country with long life expectancy.

Macron called for “calm and clarity” and promised better explanation of what the changes will mean for different French workers.

As if bracing for new protest violence, he denounced extremist protesters who hijack demonstrations to attack police. But he also acknowledged growing concerns about police violence, and called on the interior minister to improve police “ethics and controls” to prevent abuses.