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Last Updated: Thursday, 24 July, 2003, 15:09 GMT 16:09 UK
French parliament backs pension reforms
Striking demonstrators in  Paris, June 2003
Tens of thousands of people have held a series of strikes
The parliament in France has passed a controversial plan to reform the pension system that provoked a wave of recent strikes and demonstrations.

The law, which increases the number of years public sector employees must work to earn a full pension, was ratified by the upper house or Senate, soon after being passed by the National Assembly.

In the National Assembly, 393 MPs voted in favour and 152 against.

The proposed reforms have sparked a series of protests by public sector workers across the country, disrupting transport services, schools and hospitals.

Police had to use tear gas and water cannon to disperse thousands of demonstrators in Paris last month.

The reforms will require public sector employees to work more years before they receive full retirement benefits.

The government, which has a large parliamentary majority, has been pushing for the law to be passed before parliament's summer recess, which will start on Thursday or Friday.

Urgent issue

The plan's approval came after almost a month of debates, during which the Socialist opposition tabled 10,000 amendments.

What French people think of the pension reforms and strikes

Correspondents say pension reform is a pressing issue in several European countries, because of falling birth rates and increased life expectancy.

French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin says France cannot afford to continue with the present system and that the issue should be tackled now - not left to the next generation.

Under the plan, the 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 last French Government which attempted pension reforms on this scale, in 1995, was crippled by street protests, and lost an election two years later.

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