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Last Updated: Thursday, 12 June, 2003, 12:40 GMT 13:40 UK
French strikes lose bite
Striking demonstrators in  Paris, on Tuesday
Protests against pension reforms peaked on Tuesday
The clash over pension reforms in France showed signs of easing on Thursday as strikes began to falter in much of the north and centre of the country.

Over 500,000 high-school students began their all-important final baccalaureate exams mostly unhindered by protests, after last-minute government concessions earlier this week appeared to appease teachers.

In Paris, bus and metro services had resumed near-normal levels, although train services across the country remained a third down.

However, in southern France, public transport remained at a near standstill in Marseille, and in other towns students had to pass pickets and protests to get to their exams.

Also in Marseille, fire fighters reportedly had to put out around 100 fires overnight, as angry residents set fire to piles of uncollected refuse.

'Good sense'

Teachers who began campaigning eight months ago against some education policies, have taken the lead in protesting against the extension of working years needed to qualify for pensions.

Public sector unions called for another day of action on Thursday, but some teachers' unions - in part fearing a public backlash - vowed exams would go ahead normally.

Protests were held across the country, but teachers took pains to let students through roadblocks and invigilated exams.

"Here and there, there have been demonstrations and leaflets distributed outside exam centres, but most of these have not prevented candidates from entering," Jean-Paul de Gaudemar, the education ministry's director of schools, was quoted as saying.

"Good sense has prevailed this morning."

Ironically, one question in the first exam, philosophy, asked pupils to expound on "Is dialogue the route to truth?"

In Paris, metro and bus services appeared almost back to normal, and in another sign of weakening determination, several branches of the main rail union CGT voted to suspend industrial action.

However, national train services were still badly hit, and road authorities reported another record day of traffic jams as a result.

Traffic queues stretched 230 kilometres (145 miles) around Paris and 130 km elsewhere.

Rough ride

Strikes peaked on Tuesday, as the centre-right government began parliamentary debate over reforms of pensions.

RAFFARIN REFORM PLAN
By 2008 public sector workers must work for 40 years to get full pension
By 2012 all workers must work for 41 years to get full pension
By 2020 all workers must work for 42 years to get full pension

This first stage of the reform would bring the public sector into line with the private sector, and would be completed by 2008.

The contribution period for all workers would then be increased to 41 years by 2012 and 42 years by 2020.

The government has said it wants the law passed before parliament's summer recess in July, but the left-wing opposition has promised it a rough ride.

The Communists have tabled more than 6,000 amendments.

France's last attempt at pension reform in 1995 triggered a wave of protests that helped to bring down the government.




SEE ALSO:
Air chaos as France strikes
27 May 03  |  Business
French teachers step up pressure
22 May 03  |  Europe
French push to tackle pensions
03 Feb 03  |  Europe


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