French strikers rally in last ditch bid to halt pension bill

Hundreds of thousands of defiant French strikers took to the streets on Thursday.

Paris: Hundreds of thousands of defiant
French strikers took to the streets on Thursday, in a last-ditch bid
to force President Nicolas Sarkozy to scrap a just-passed law
raising the retirement age.

At least 270 rallies were planned around France, as
workers and students launched the ninth in a series of one-day
mass protests and strikes, part of a movement that has
threatened to paralyse the economy.

Most of the demonstrations of recent weeks have been
peaceful, but gangs of youths on the fringes of rallies or of
school blockades have clashed with riot police in several
cities and authorities are on high alert.

Power was cut at the finance and economy ministry for
an hour at the start of the day, in what officials described
as "an apparent act of ill will", and initial reports from
around the country suggested thousands were marching.

The main protest rally in Paris expected to draw
hundreds of thousands in its own right, while previous marches
on October 19 drew between 1.1 and 3.5 million nationwide.

But, with the reform now formally approved by
parliament and many French families away enjoying the
half-term school holidays, labour leaders admitted they were
not expecting to match previous mass mobilisations.

"We know there`s a bit of tiredness, and the school
holidays as well. We`re not expecting to beat any records
today, but it shows that we`re keeping the pressure on," said
Jean-Claude Mailly of the Force Ouvriere union.

At least one more day of action is planned after
today, on November 6, but the French parliament has approved
Sarkozy`s pensions bill and his aides say he intends to sign
it into law on or around November 15.

France`s Socialist opposition, which accuses the
right-wing government of forcing ordinary workers to work
longer to compensate for the failures of high finance,
demanded that the president stay his pen.

Sarkozy`s administration has all along insisted that
raising the retirement age is not only necessary but
"inevitable", with the French population ageing and the public
deficit expanding.


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