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Last Updated: Monday, 21 November 2005, 20:56 GMT
Strike cripples French railways
Commuters in Paris struggle to board a train
Commuters were forced to fight for space on the last trains
Rail workers in France have begun a national strike, crippling the rail network for at least 24 hours.

As many as two-thirds of trains stopped running as commuters tried return home on Monday night.

Unions are striking to protest against any privatisation of the rail network, despite government assurances.

Disruption to commuter and high-speed services will continue until Tuesday evening, but the strike could last for an indefinite period.

Many commuters left Paris early on Monday, but others were left to squeeze onto scarce trains or wait for buses in cold winter weather.

Transport minister Dominique Perben earlier wrote to unions trying to re-assure them that the national rail network, SNCF, would not be sold off.

"I put in black and white what I have said on several occasions over the last 10 days: there is no plan for the privatisation of SNCF," the minister said.

But the Force Ouvriere union, which represents rail workers, said Mr Perben's letter was not enough.

The union said it expected 70% to 80% of France's 165,000 rail workers to participate in the strike.

Only 40% of high-speed TGV services were thought to be running, and international connections were also hit.

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