MARSEILLE, France (AP) — On a sunny afternoon in the center of Marseille in southern France, traffic was stopped as the sound of drumming and a swarm of rollicking beasts filled the streets.
The city's unofficial yet infamous Carnaval de la Plaine had arrived — right on the precipice of a week filled with violent protests and discontent over French President Emmanuel Macron's move to force through an unpopular bill raising the retirement age from 62 to 64.
Organized by neighborhood residents, the independent carnival is rooted in the local community’s activism against gentrification and all forms of oppression. Residents of this ancient and diverse Mediterranean city take to the streets in the most wacky and elaborate costumes they can come up with, and exercise free rein to throw flour at anyone not in the know — or brave enough to show up in normal clothes.
Most editions in recent memory end with riot police dispersing the feisty crowd with tear gas, making police intervention almost part of the tradition.
In this year’s edition, held Sunday, a man wearing a Macron mask and dressed in a suit waltzed through the streets, covered in flour thrown by the raunchy dancing crowd.
A group of three dressed up as slices of a pizza, each with a price tag of 49.3 euros — a reference to the constitutional article 49.3, used by Macron’s government to push his pension reform through parliament without a vote after weeks of strikes.
Rising inflation and the surveillance state were common themes referenced in the bouncing costumes worn by carnival-goers, as they marched around Jean Jaures Square singing and dancing.
At sundown, carnival floats were burned so that the procession could dance rings around the flames, as French riot police took positions on the edge of the party.
Like many of the anti-government demonstrations that came earlier in the week, the Carnaval de la Plaine concluded with clashes, as French riot police cleared the square of carnival-goers and firefighters doused the remains of the burning effigies.