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FRANCE

France strikes to continue as government vows not to give in

A man walks by a closed RER gate during a strike of Paris public transports operator RATP employees over French government's plan to overhaul the country's retirement system, in Paris, on December 5, 2019 as part of a national strike.
A man walks by a closed RER gate during a strike of Paris public transports operator RATP employees over French government's plan to overhaul the country's retirement system, in Paris, on December 5, 2019 as part of a national strike. Philippe LOPEZ / AFP

The French government says it will press on with far-reaching pension reforms in the face of the biggest strikes in years, which have brought public transport in much of the country to a standstill. The disruption began on Thursday and is set to go on through the weekend and into the next week.

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Most high-speed trains were cancelled, flights were affected and most of the Paris metro shut down in a major challenge to the ambitious reform agenda of President Emmanuel Macron.

The turmoil is expected to continue over the weekend and through until at least Tuesday when unions have called more nationwide protests to follow mass rallies on Thursday that brought over 800,000 people onto the streets.

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe insisted that the government would not abandon a plan which would require the French "to work a bit longer."

He pledged to work with trade unions to introduce a single "fairer", points-based pension scheme for all, scrapping the 42 more advantageous plans currently enjoyed by train drivers, soldiers and a host of other workers in the process.

Refineries blocked

Pending a government decision, dozens of trains, metros and flights were cancelled, many schools were again closed or offering only day care, and four of the country's eight oil refineries remained blocked on Friday.

Rail operator SNCF has already halted ticket sales through the weekend, with 90 percent of high-speed TGV trains again cancelled Friday and little improvement expected over the weekend.

Half of the Eurostar trains between Paris and London were dropped, and just two of three Thalys trains serving Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam were running.

Yellow Vests

On Saturday, another round of yellow vest protests is announced as well in multiple locations in Paris. According to "Demosphere", the website that lists protest marches, the biggest one will start in Austerlitz and goes to Porte de Versailles and another one will take place around Montparnasse Station.

Meanwhile, unions on Friday called for a new day of mass protests and strikes next week. "Everybody in the street on Tuesday, December 10, for a new day... of strikes, actions and protests," Catherine Perret, a senior member of the CGT union, France's biggest public-sector union, told reporters after a meeting of four unions. The Parisian public transport system RATP said that 9 metro lines will be closed completely, while the rest will operate on a reduced service.

French national rail company SNCF ‘advises travellers to postpone their trip’ if possible, since traffic will be ‘strongly reduced’ on 7 and 8 December while it will remain ‘heavily affected’ on Monday 9 December.

Eurostar cancels 11 trains on Saturday, 18 on Sunday, 17 on Monday and 13 on Tuesday, while Thalys “reduces the number of connections and plans to operate 2 out of 3 trains on December 7, 8 and 9” for the coming days.

And Aeroports de Paris, which runs the Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports, announced it provides extra airport busses.

Until now, about one fifth of the flights from and to Paris were affected by the strikes, but French aviation authority DGAC told AFP that it will "not ask airline companies to reduce their flights on Saturday."

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