France sees more protests over pen­sions

Orlando Sentinel - - BUSINESS -

PARIS — French rail work­ers, teach­ers, doc­tors, lawyers and oth­ers joined a fourth day of na­tion­wide protests and strikes Thurs­day to de­nounce Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron’s plans to over­haul the pen­sion sys­tem.

Street protests were staged in Paris and other French cities as the govern­ment and la­bor unions pushed on with ne­go­ti­a­tions aimed at end­ing rail­way strikes over the pro­posed changes that started Dec. 5.

The Paris march started from the Republique square in the city cen­ter and was ac­com­pa­nied by a large po­lice pres­ence. The El­y­see pres­i­den­tial palace was bar­ri­caded as pro­test­ers were due to head to­ward the area.

Unions said the protest in the cap­i­tal at­tracted 370,000 demon­stra­tors, while French con­sult­ing firm Oc­cur­rence es­ti­mated a crowd of 44,000.

By the time the demon­stra­tion wound down, 20 demon­stra­tors and 16 po­lice of­fi­cers had been in­jured, ac­cord­ing to the Paris po­lice depart­ment. Of­fi­cers made two dozens ar­rests amid oc­ca­sional flare ups of vi­o­lence, Paris po­lice said.

The Eif­fel Tower was closed to vis­i­tors as em­ploy­ees joined the protest. Paris Metro traf­fic was se­verely dis­rupted, ex­cept for one au­to­mated line run­ning nor­mally.

The na­tional rail com­pany, SNCF, said about one-third of its work­ers were on strike Thurs­day, the 36th day of the strike by rail­way work­ers. Three high-speed trains out of five were in op­er­a­tion. Re­gional trains were also af­fected. and many schools were closed.

Unions have also called on work­ers to block road ac­cess to ma­jor ports, in­clud­ing in the south­ern city of Mar­seille.

Philippe Martinez, head of hard-left CGT union, said “there are many peo­ple on strike” yet the govern­ment doesn’t ap­pear “will­ing to dis­cuss and take into ac­count the opinion of unions.”

Talks be­tween the govern­ment and la­bor unions re­sumed Tues­day but no com­pro­mise has been found. A new round of ne­go­ti­a­tions fo­cus­ing on the fi­nanc­ing of the new pen­sion sys­tem is sched­uled for Fri­day. Macron has asked his govern­ment to find a quick com­pro­mise with re­form-minded unions.

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