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Last Updated: Wednesday, 17 October 2007, 20:56 GMT 21:56 UK
Strike disrupts French transport
A man looks at a board at Saint-Lazare station in Paris announcing the cancellation of trains for the 24-hour strike 17 October, 2007
In the past, strikes have put great pressure on political leaders
Workers in France have begun a strike which has severely disrupted the country's transport system, especially the railway network.

The 24-hour strike began on Wednesday at 2000 local time (1800 GMT).

Trade unions called the strike in protest against the reform of special pension schemes enjoyed by a minority of state sector workers.

In the past, transport strikes have caused massive disruption and put pressure on political leaders.

Soon after the strike started the national railway company SNCF reported many cancellations of its high-speed TGV trains, out of which only about 7% are expected to be in normal service.

Eurostar cross-channel trains will also be affected, but SNCF said only five trains would be suspended between Paris and London.

Transport links in the Paris region are also severely disrupted, with the public transport company RATP reporting very little traffic on the metro lines, virtually no traffic on the regional trains and only 15% of buses and trams in normal service.

The strike is scheduled to last 24 hours, but some unions have called for strikes to be extended to Friday or even Saturday.

An extension of the strike could hit spectators heading for the final matches of the Rugby World Cup, held at the Stade de France stadium in a northern suburb of Paris.

'Special regime'

President Nicolas Sarkozy, whose proposed pension reforms were invoked by the trade unions as the main reason for this strike, said he was not impressed.

Nicolas Sarkozy
Mr Sarkozy promised to maintain a dialogue with unions

"I am not stressed. People would be more worried if we didn't make reforms," Mr Sarkozy told France 2 television.

"There are reforms to be made, everybody knows this. I was elected for that, we are going to make them calmly, maintaining the dialogue.

"I'll meet the railway workers, the RATP agents, the gas workers, the electricians, as I did last week," he said.

The government plans to scrap the "special regime" pension system for 500,000 workers in state-controlled companies.

It includes workers at SNCF, electricity company EDF, miners and members of parliament.

Only 6% of pensions fall under the special regime, which allows beneficiaries to retire after 37.5 years worked, compared with 40 years for other public and private sector employees.

The government says the cost to the budget of the special regime will be 5bn euros (3.48bn) this year.

SEE ALSO
France hit by mass job protests
29 Mar 06 |  Europe
Strike cripples French railways
21 Nov 05 |  Europe
'Black Tuesday' strike in France
04 Oct 05 |  Business

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