BBC: Protests in France over Retirement Age Continues

Hundreds of thousands of people in France are taking part in a sixth national day of action over planned pension reforms. Strikes are disrupting travel and schools, a refinery blockade is hitting fuel supplies, and protesters and police have clashed in several cities. The government wants to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62 and the full state pension age from 65 to 67.

President Nicolas Sarkozy insists he will press ahead with pension reforms. Speaking in Deauville at a summit with the leaders of Russia and Germany, he made a pledge to restore petrol supplies once he had returned to Paris- “I thought carefully before I decided to go ahead with pension reform. It had been put on hold for too long and could not be put on hold any longer. “It was a difficult, complex choice, but it was my duty.”

But with the Senate due for a final vote this week, protests are planned in more than 200 towns and cities. Protests on Monday turned violent in some areas. The plans are deeply unpopular with the public. Left-wing senators have submitted hundreds amendments in an attempt to delay the vote, although it is now expected to go ahead on Thursday.

Fuel crisis

Tuesday will be France’s sixth national day of protests since early September. In Paris, tens of thousands of marchers were due to set off from the Place d’Italie from about 1330 (1130 GMT). Organisers said an estimated 3.5 million people marched a week ago, setting a new record. Police put the figure at 1.2 million.

The unrest has intensified since last week when unions for railway and refinery workers called open-ended action, joined now by truck drivers and delivery workers. Government ministers stressed the country has plenty of fuel and that airports in particular have ample supply. But by the end of Tuesday it’s estimated 2,500 service stations will have run short of fuel. President Sarkozy has formed a crisis cabinet tasked with overseeing the government’s response. He refuses to give anymore concessions to the unions and at this point there’s no sign either side is likely to back down.

The BBC’s Christian Fraser, in Paris, says there is a feeling that the demonstration could turn angry, with a noticeable change in atmosphere since last week. Ahead of the march there were clashes for a second day between students and police in the Paris suburb of Nanterre. Police fired tear gas to break up angry youths. There were also clashes outside Paris, in Lyon and Mulhouse.

Nationally, renewed strikes and an ongoing week-long blockade of France’s 12 oil refineries are expected to hit transport networks as well as private fuel supplies. Half of flights in and out of Paris’s Orly airport have been cancelled and 30% of flights at other airports have been affected. Train operator SNCF said it expected 60% of trains to run on Tuesday, the Le Monde newspaper reported, with Metro and local trains around Paris also expected to keep some services running.

There was more opposition among those travelling as the strikes began. “We shouldn’t think it’s still acceptable to stop working at 60 years old – we should work until 65. Like other European countries we have to work longer than 60 years,” insurance worker Frederic Deraed told the BBC’s Matthew Price in Lille.

“It’s completely useless,” said housewife Nadine Gestas. “We can’t pay the pensions and we can’t avoid increasing the age of retirement. Every country in Europe is raising the age of retirement.”

But Olivier Sekai of the General Confederation of Labour (CGT) said he saw support increasing for the protests. “The government is acting as if we didn’t have a rich country, as if we didn’t have the money. The thing is we do have the money,” he told the BBC.

Number of Attendees at eventsof events: Saturday 16 October: 825,000 (source: police) to 3 million (source: unions)

  • Tuesday 12 October: 1.2 million to 3.5 million
  • Saturday 2 October: 900,000 to 3 million
  • Thursday 23 September: 1 million to 3 million
  • Tuesday 7 September: 1.2 million to 2.7 million

 

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