Evening Update Thursday 23rd March 2023

For the ninth time in just two months, opponents of France's controversial pension reform have been out on the streets of the Riviera today, in a pan-industry day of general strike action. Today's mobilisation comes the day after a televised speech by president Emmanuel Macron, in which he stressed he would press ahead with raising the retirement age gradually in France from 62 to 64. Around France, more than 200 marches were held, with the biggest in Paris this afternoon attracting tens of thousands of demonstrators. Locally, protests were held in Toulon, Draguignan and Brignoles and Nice, where traffic to the west of the city was paralysed by a strong turnout - 35,000 according to organisers, 5,200 according to police. Schools have been largely affected by the strike action and public transport remains disrupted for the rest of this evening.

A driver who refused to comply with a roadside police check has been arrested after a high-speed chase that ended with him ploughing his car into a bus shelter in Cannes La Bocca. Municipal police tried to pull the driver over on Tuesday afternoon during a routine check. He sped off and police motorcyclists gave chase before the driver lost control, smashed into a traffic sign, bumped into two other vehicles and destroyed the bus shelter. Luckily no one was waiting at the bus stop at the time. The incident happened shortly before the end of the school day. The driver tried to run away but was quickly arrested. During the arrest, on the La Frayere estate, two municipal police officers were attacked by passers-by and a police car was vandalised. The arrested suspect did not have a driving licence. The incident has led to tensions between police and young people around La Frayère. Police and firefighters were out in force last night as several large bins in the area were set on fire.

In Marseille, a 21-year-old man was shot dead last night in the city's third arrondissement, in what appears to be yet another drugs-related settling of scores. It comes just days after a 22-year-old was killed in the 14th arrondissement - the latest in a long series of violent attacks by drugs gangs. Last night's victim was returning home by scooter when he was targeted by a group of five individuals armed with pistols. Judicial police have opened an investigation. About a dozen people have died in Marseille since the beginning of this year against a backdrop of drug trafficking in the city's poorer neighbourhoods.

Three drivers have been injured, one seriously, in a three-car pile-up in the Var. The accident happened on the RD43 in Rocbaron yesterday lunchtime. A dozen firefighters were called out to help free the victims from their vehicles.

Animal rights activists have staged a protest outside a circus in Menton in protest at what they consider to be unacceptable conditions. Protestors sat down in child-sized plastic paddling pools, with their knees up around their chins, to denounce the cramped conditions experienced by Jumbo, the circus's three-tonne hippopotamus that the activists say has spent more than 30 years in a metal container. The Zavatta circus also features zebras, snakes and monkeys. Several local councillors have spoken out on social media, expressing disappointment that the mayor of Menton gave authorisation for the circus to set up in the town. They claim Zavatta had committed to put on a show without wild animals - and that this promise has been broken.

New figures show Nice is the city in France where global warming is making its presence felt the most. Analysis of Météo France data from all of the country's weather stations, carried out by France Info, found the station in Nice had the highest number of days last year when the peak temperature was higher than the historic daily average. Last year, temperatures in Nice were higher than usual for 316 days. Bastia and Strasbourg came second and third respectively, each with nearly 300 days of higher-than-usual temperatures. At the other end of the spectrum, Reims in the east of France had 226 days that were warmer than average, but 140 days that were cooler than usual.

Meanwhile Breil-sur-Roya is feeling the effects of France's winter drought. According to Météo France, it's the town in the Alpes-Maritimes that has recorded the least rainfall since the start of the year. It's only rained on two days so far since the beginning of 2023 - once at the beginning of January and once in mid-March. The town has recorded just 9 millimetres of rainfall since the new year. Last year, according to Météo France, the Alpes-Maritimes as a whole suffered a rainfall deficit of more than 40% - one of the worst since measures began in 1959.

And a man's been convicted in Monaco for drug-driving after he asked a police officer for directions, and police could clearly smell cannabis on his breath. The man, from Marseille, stopped his car to ask a policeman for help last October. He was found with about six grams of cannabis in his possession. The driver, who had a clean criminal record until now, was handed an eight-day suspended prison sentence and was banned from driving in Monaco for six months.

BUSINESS

Embattled Chinese property giant Evergrande has announced plans for restructuring around $20bn (£16.2bn) in offshore debt, which could be seen as a model for other struggling developers. The firm said the measures will help "efforts to resume operations and resolve issues on shore". Evergrande has more than $300bn in liabilities and defaulted on its debts in late 2021. The crisis has spooked traders who fear contagion in China's property sector.

Ineos owner Sir Jim Ratcliffe and Qatari banker Sheikh Jassim are set to submit new bids to buy Manchester United after a deadline was extended at their request amid confusion on Wednesday night. Bidders were told they had until 9pm British time last night to submit second, revised bids. It's reported that several other proposed investors made their submissions by that time. It is unclear when the new deadline will be. Ratcliffe and Sheikh Jassim are the only publicly declared bidders. Initially on Wednesday evening there had been strong indications from sources close to the pair that they had submitted new bids. But it then emerged over the past 48 hours first the Qatari team and then Ineos had submitted requests to Raine - the investment bank conducting the sale - for more time to make their second offers, which was granted. The situation is described as "live and fast moving" by someone close to the talks but sources insist that both Sheikh Jassim and Ineos are committed to making second bids. However the twist in the sale process will only reinforce concerns among some fans that American owners the Glazer family may decide not to sell the club.

SPORT

Tennis - Two-time champion Andy Murray suffered a straight-set loss to Dusan Lajovic in the first round at the Miami Open. Former world number one Murray, winner in both 2009 and 2013, was beaten 6-4 7-5 by the 76th-ranked Serb. It comes a week after the fatigued 35-year-old Scot lost to Jack Draper in the third round at Indian Wells.

Football - Cristiano Ronaldo will become the most-capped men's international footballer if he plays in Portugal's Euro 2024 qualifying opener against Liechtenstein on Thursday. Ronaldo, 38, moved level with Kuwait forward Bader Al-Mutawa on 196 caps when he faced Morocco at the World Cup. And he is now part of new Portugal manager Roberto Martinez's first squad. Ronaldo - now playing in Saudi Arabia for Al Nassr - has scored a men's record 118 international goals. There were question marks about his international future after he left the pitch in tears following Portugal's elimination by Morocco at the quarter-final stage.

And in local football, AS Monaco football club's sporting director Paul Mitchell has confirmed he'll soon be leaving the Ligue 1 club. The British former footballer arrived at AS Monaco in summer 2020. In a newspaper interview today he says his mission has been fulfilled - but he remains focused on the job and the search for his successor, and has a few possible candidates in mind. AS Monaco is currently fourth in the league and Mitchell said he was hopeful that a top-three finish to the season was achievable.

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