French protests weaken but still disrupt flights

French unions carried more nationwide street protests and strike-caused travel woes.

Paris: French unions are not giving up: Thursday saw more nationwide street protests and strike-caused travel woes even though Parliament has already approved President Nicolas Sarkozy`s unpopular plan to raise the retirement age.

Still, last-ditch effort aimed to try to convince the conservative Sarkozy not to sign the bill making the French work until 62 before retiring.

But Sarkozy has refused to back down so far, even amid two weeks of strikes that canceled trains, shut down oil refineries and left drivers struggling to find gasoline. Thursday marked the seventh day of street marches over the plan this fall, but the strikes have been losing momentum for days.

A small number of trains were canceled Thursday, but the problem was bigger for airlines. A third of flights at Paris` Charles de Gaulle airport and half of those at the city`s smaller Orly have been canceled.

The opposition Socialists plan to challenge the bill`s constitutionality before a special council. Sarkozy must wait for the council`s approval before he signs it, a step expected in mid-November.

Though the strikes are tapering off, the fuel shortages they caused are still a problem. Some gas stations are still closed because of the refinery strike, with the worst problems around Paris and in western France.

Striking dock workers have exacerbated the shortages. Oil tankers are lined up by the dozens in the Mediterranean off the port of Marseille, waiting to unload. The Normandy port of Le Havre faces a similar situation. Dock workers have been protesting a month, partly over the pension plan, though their central concern is a port reform.

Unions see retirement at 60 as a cornerstone of France`s generous social benefit system, but the government says the entire pension system is in jeopardy without the reform because French people are living longer — an average of nearly 85 years for women and 78 for men.

Bureau Report

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