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Page last updated at 17:58 GMT, Thursday, 22 May 2008 18:58 UK

Strikes over pensions hit France

Civil servants rally in Marseille 22 May 2008
It is Mr Sarkozy and his team that need reforming, these strikers say

France's main trade unions have held a day of demonstrations and strikes to protest against government plans to change the state pension system.

Transport workers led the national stoppage, with only half of trains running across France.

Hundreds of thousands took part in protests in many cities, in what unions called an "undeniable success".

President Nicolas Sarkozy is seeking to increase the number of years worked to draw a full pension from 40 to 41.

Travel by train, bus and underground was disrupted across France.

However high-speed trains between Paris, London and Brussels were not affected, and flights to and from Paris were operating as normal.

Postal services were reduced, while state-run radio played music rather than provide normal programmes.

Demonstrations were held in Paris and at least 126 other cities.

Union leaders say a total of 700,000 people took part, but police put the number at 296,000.

Job cuts

Thursday's walkouts did not causing the widespread chaos of last November, when transport workers staged a nine-day strike against Mr Sarkozy's plan to scrap their special pension rights.

The government and the unions negotiated an end to the strikes but now workers are upset over plans to make all French workers stay on the job one year longer before receiving a full state pension.

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Demonstrators rally in Lyon

Unions are also angry at government plans to cut the numbers of public sector workers.

Teachers and students have staged a number of strikes and protests over the plans which would see retiring teachers not replaced.

However disruption on Thursday was minimised, as unions stuck to a legal commitment to run a minimum service, negotiated with the government last year.

Nonetheless, unions are hoping that a head of steam is building up against Mr Sarkozy's economic reform plans, says BBC correspondent Hugh Schofield in Paris.

The president has so far made the calculation that most people accept the changes that he has promised, and there is no sign of him backing down, our correspondent adds.

Mr Sarkozy says the current pension system is unsustainable and reforms are needed to bring French state pensions into line with those other EU countries.

Port blockades

Meanwhile, ferry links with the UK remained badly disrupted by separate disputes over rising fuel costs.

Dry petrol station in Marseille 22/05/08

French fishermen blockaded several ports earlier this week, to demand compensation to cover their increased costs.

The dispute was apparently settled on Wednesday, when the French government agreed to step up aid to the fishing industry.

Pierre-Georges Dachicourt, president of the national fishing committee, called on "all fishing crews to return to the sea" and most ports were returning to normal.

However some fishermen refused to end the protest. In Marseille, crews continued to blockade the port and oil depots.

Meanwhile a separate action by dock workers meant sailings across the English Channel were restricted and there were huge lorry tailbacks on both sides.


SEE ALSO
In pictures: French strikes
22 May 08 |  In Pictures
In pictures: French fishermen protest
21 May 08 |  In Pictures
Teachers throng Paris over cuts
18 May 08 |  Europe


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