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Last Updated: Thursday, 15 November 2007, 19:02 GMT
France braves fresh travel misery
Paris metro station on 15 November 2007
One union leader said there might be grounds to end the strike
France has endured a second day of travel chaos as transport unions continued to strike against President Nicolas Sarkozy's pension reforms.

More trains were running than on Wednesday, but millions of people still struggled to get to and from work.

The misery looks set to continue after state rail and Paris transport workers voted to continue striking on Friday.

Mr Sarkozy has called for a speedy end to the strike, saying conditions for talks with the unions have been met.

Germany also faces rail disruption in its worst ever transport strike, with only two-thirds of trains running on main lines.

Passenger and freight train drivers have taken the action over a pay demand.

Deutsche Bahn says it will not make a new pay offer, and drivers' unions have raised the prospect of open-ended strikes.

Breakthrough hopes

France's largest rail union, the CGT, said 46% of employees at the state-run SNCF train company were on strike on Thursday, compared with 64% the day before.

Only 150 of the usual 700 TGV high-speed trains were running.

'SPECIAL' PENSIONS SYSTEM
Benefits 1.6m workers, including 1.1m retirees
Applies in 16 sectors, of which rail and utilities employees make up 360,000 people
Account for 6% of total state pension payments
Shortfall costs state 5bn euros (3.5bn; $6.9bn) a year
Some workers can retire on full pensions aged 50
Awarded to Paris Opera House workers in 1698 by Louis XIV

The Paris public transport company RATP said 27% of metro workers were on strike Thursday, down from 44% on Wednesday.

Major roads in the Paris region were clogged, with a reported 300km (180 miles) of traffic jams early in the day.

Members of the CFDT union, on strike on Wednesday, went back to work.

Most workers at the EDF electricity and GDF gas utilities also returned to work after taking action on Wednesday.

Commuters across the country have been forced to find other ways to get to work - car sharing, cycling or roller-blading along traffic-choked roads.

More disruption

Hopes of a breakthrough were raised on Wednesday evening after Mr Sarkozy said conditions for talks had been created.

In a letter to the unions, labour minister Xavier Bertrand proposed a month of negotiations between all parties.

The head of the CGT railway branch, Didier Le Reste, said the letter contained some "new elements", but members have voted to continue the strike until at least Friday morning.

Gare St Lazare in Paris on 15 November, 2007
All rail services were disrupted

Workers from other unions have also voted to stay on strike.

"We imagine that Friday will go much the same way as today," CGT spokesman Jacques Eliez said.

The strike began on Tuesday night and follows a previous walkout on 18 October.

The last time a French government tried to overhaul "special" pensions was in 1995 and it sparked three weeks of strikes that forced then-President Jacques Chirac to climb down.

But the polls have so far broadly supported Mr Sarkozy, who says France can no longer afford to let some public service employees retire on a full pension as early as 50.

Thursday's disruption coincided with protests at 31 universities over education reforms.

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Transport workers take to the streets in protest



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