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France disrupted by strikes against pension reforms

French students and workers took to the streets throughout the country in a fresh wave of strikes against pension reform on Tuesday, in a test of the government's resolve as the reform bill edges closer to becoming law.

Masses of striking French

Hundreds of thousands took part in the capital Paris

Public transportation, air travel and sea ports were disrupted in France on Tuesday as hundreds of thousands of workers and students staged fresh strikes against the government's pension reforms.

Walkouts reduced flights from Paris's main airports by as much as 50 percent. Around 30 percent of France's high-speed TGV trains were running, with the Paris metro also running a limited service.

The Eifel Tour in Paris

No tourists climbed the Eifel Tower on Tuesday afternoon

During the afternoon, the Eifel Tower was closed due to lack of staff, and hundreds of schools were shut down throughout the country.

Students in Paris chanted slogans, waved banners and climbed up on the roofs of bus shelters with loudspeakers.

"This law ignores the reality for young people," said Eloi Simon, 21, a student near Paris.

"It's hard enough to find a steady job and if this goes through it will be even harder," she added.

Sarkozy pledges to persevere

Sarkozy's pension plan is quickly becoming one of the biggest battles of his presidency, pitting him against unions that crushed a previous attempt to reform the system in 1995.

His administration, however, is refusing to buckle under the pressure.

"We have reached the limit of the (concessions) that are possible," Prime Minister Francois Fillon said.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy

The Sarkozy administration says it won't back down

The French senate voted on Monday to raise the age at which workers can retire on full pensions from 65 to 67, after already voting on raising the age for early retirement from 60 to 62.

Sarkozy has already made small concessions in the reform legislation, but has said he will not back down on the bill's key points.

Union leaders, meanwhile, vow to keep up the pressure with a fourth pension protest in just over a month, pledging further that it wouldn't be the last.

"From this point on the question is whether we need to have open-ended strikes," Jean-Claude Mailly, head of the more radical Force Ouvriere union told reporters.

Unions have called a further day of protest on Oct. 16 and will meet again on Wednesday to review their position.

Nonetheless, the government hopes to have its pension and retirement reforms passed by the end of the month.

Author: Gabriel Borrud (Reuters/AFP)
Editor: Chuck Penfold

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