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Last Updated: Tuesday, 17 June, 2003, 08:42 GMT 09:42 UK
Pension plea sent to all French homes
Protesters against pension reform
Unions have vowed to keep up their opposition
French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin is sending a personal letter to every French household to explain why he is pushing ahead with his controversial pension reforms.

The reforms have sparked weeks of strikes in France, seriously disrupting education, transport and other parts of the public sector.

The next wave of strikes and demonstrations is planned for Thursday as unions maintain their opposition to the plans, which would force people to work longer to claim a full pension.

I am convinced that they will protect our future without passing the problem on to our children
Jean-Pierre Raffarin letter
Mr Raffarin's letter pleads with voters to accept his argument that the reforms are essential to cope with France's growing number of older people and shrinking workforce.

It also explains how workers will be affected if the system is not changed, and makes the case for changing the system now rather than leaving the problem for the next generation.

Parliament began debating the reforms last week, but are still bogged down on Article 1, as the opposition seeks to wear down the government's patience.

Mr Raffarin has said he wants the reforms on the statute books before parliament's summer recess, but the debate looks set to turn into a marathon affair.

The Communists have tabled more than 6,000 amendments.

The BBC's Caroline Wyatt in Paris says the letter is a novel attempt to get the nation on-side, after recent surveys showed that more than half the French believe the government should negotiate with the unions.

However, it's not clear when the letter itself will arrive - as post office workers are among those taking part in this week's strikes.

Mr Raffarin's letter and a four-page leaflet which accompanies it have been written with the help of an outside advertising agency, Publicis.

They declare that it is "telling the truth" to the French, describing the reforms are wise and fair.

What French people think of the pension reforms and strikes

"I am convinced I have protected your future without passing the problem on to your children," Mr Raffarin says.

There have been some signs that the unions' resolve is weakening. An open-ended transport strike which began last Monday night appeared to have largely faded by Thursday.

And to counter the huge union protests, a demonstration of people opposed to the strikes took place in Paris last weekend.

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

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