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France

Unions hope for biggest protest yet on pensions protest

Reuters

French trade unions are hoping for the biggest turnout yet on the fifth day of demonstrations against President Nicolas Sarkozy’s pension reform in six weeks. An oil refinery strike is threatening supplies to Paris’s Roissy airport and to the petrol pumps.

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Over 230 rallies will take place across the country, according to the CGT union federation, which hopes that over a million people will hit the streets.

Strikes have hit all 12 of France’s oil refineries, with ten closed down. While Paris’s Orly airport reports having enough stocks for 17 days, Roissy Charles de Gaulle says that fuel could run out on Monday.

About 10 per cent of service stations were reported closed on Friday.

The government has given permission to oil companies to use their own emergency stocks but has resisted calls to open the part of a fuel reserve controlled by a government body.

School students are expected to turn out in large numbers on Saturday’s demonstrations.

There were 200 arrests as students and police clashed at rallies on Friday, when protests closed 550 high schools, after two students were injured on Thursday.

Sarkozy’s UMP party have seized on the clashes to accuse former Socialist presidential candidate Ségolène Royal of “irresponsibility” after she defended young people’s right to join the protests peacefully.

Saturday's general strike will be followed by another one-day general strike on Tuesday.
 

Strikes continue to disrupt rail and metro traffic in France, although much less than earlier in the week. Transport bosses predict the following for Saturday:

  • TGV high-speed trains: two out of three to leave from Paris, problems in the south because of local difficulties, one in four in the provinces;
  • Corail intercity services: one train in three;
  • International links: Eurostar running normally, trains to Germany running almost normally, nine out of 10 trains to Switzerland, no night train to Milan, trains to Belgium will stop at Lille because of a separate strike by Belgian railworkers;
  • Paris and its region: Most of the metro and much of the RER suburban network are close to normal, with three out of four trains running on most lines, little disruption of bus services.
     

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