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Last Updated: Tuesday, 15 June, 2004, 19:15 GMT 20:15 UK
French power strikers target PM
An electricity pylon
French power workers have stepped up their protests against plans for the partial sell-off of the country's state owned electricity firm EdF.

Electricity supplies to the homes of Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin and other politicians have been cut.

The action follows localised power cuts, strikes, drops in power and marches by disgruntled union members.

The cuts came on the day the French parliament was debating a draft law paving the way for EdF's privatisation.

The cut at Mr Raffarin's country home - rather than his official Paris residence - was one of several commando-style operations targeting the country's top names.

Politicians targeted

A CGT union official told Reuters: "We took the electricity counter away with us just now.

"As of now there's no power at Mr Raffarin's house."

Other politicians affected by similar action included culture minister Jack Lang and former PM Michel Rocard, while the holiday home of the head of France's main business federation was also hit.

French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin
Mr Raffarin was targeted by disgruntled EdF workers
Earlier, parts of Bordeaux and Grenoble were plunged into darkness as unions staged a walkout ahead of a parliamentary debate on the government's plans.

Strikers were reported to be targeting regions represented by deputies that back the proposed sell-off.

According to the CGT union, the walkout has cut EdF's output by about 12%. Separately, strikers disrupted operations at gas utility GdF, also earmarked for privatisation.

Stand off

As the action escalated the CGT said 70,000 workers took part in marches across France - claiming between 4,000 and 5,000 joined such a protest in Paris.

However, reports from the sceneestimated the numbers to be much lower.

Energy market traders said the strike pushed up prices on France's electricity market.

Meanwhile, ministers and EdF have vowed to stand by the reforms despite the widespread protests.

"There is no going back," EdF chief executive Francois Roussely said of the planned part privatisation on Europe 1 radio.

The strikes are timed to coincide with a parliamentary debate on a government proposal to transform EdF and GdF into limited companies, a move which would pave the way for privatisation.

Parliament will decide
Patrick Devedjian, French industry minister
The centre-right government wants to sell off up to 30% of EdF in order to fund urgently-needed investment in France's electricity network without putting its already overstretched finances under additional strain.

But the CGT union said the government had neglected alternatives to privatisation.

"A decision of this nature and importance cannot be taken when there is so much controversy, when expert advice on other ways of responding to the challenges facing EdF and GdF," CGT president Bernard Thibault told RTL Radio.

Higher prices

French industry minister Patrick Devedjian said the government would stand firm.

"The matter is being put before parliament, it represents the nation, and EdF belongs to the nation. Parliament will decide," he said.

And finance minister Nicolas Sarkozy said electricity prices would have to rise in order to shore up EdF's financial position.

"The price of electricity in France has been built, to a large extent, on the deterioration of the financial situation of (EdF)," he told RTL.

Eric Chanay of Morgan Stanley told the BBC's World Business Report that the protests were misguided.

"The unions have made a big mistake," he said.

"People have been stranded in stations for hours - public opinion is not backing EdF employees."

The latest round of protests - which follow a 24-hour stoppage three weeks ago - look set to pile further pressure on France's ruling UMP party, which was trounced in last week's European elections.




WATCH AND LISTEN
Eric Chanay, Morgan Stanley
"There is no reason to keep electricity generation in the hands of the government"



SEE ALSO:
France hit by mass energy protest
27 May 04  |  Business
France's nuclear option
09 Oct 03  |  Europe
France shakes up state giants
31 Jul 03  |  Business
French MPs slam state firms
16 Jul 03  |  Business


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