More than 3 million people have taken to streets throughout France to protest the government’s handling of the economic crisis and the policies of President Nicolas Sarkozy, French unions said.
French strikers called for a new tack on France's economic and social policies under Sarkozy
Trade union officials said Thursday, March 19, that the protest had drawn at least 25 percent more demonstrators than an earlier march on Jan. 29 that saw around 2.5 million people protest.
Streets in central Paris were packed with marchers waving anti-Sarkozy placards and chanting slogans, with badges reading "Get lost you little jerk" -- the now-infamous comment made by Sarkozy to a protestor at an agriculture show.
"There are more and more workers who feel they are not responsible for this crisis but that they are the main victims of it," said Bernard Thibault, head of the CGT, one of the eight trade unions organizing the strikes.
Thibault told RTL radio that the aim of the nation-wide march was to "force reconsideration of (Sarkozy's) economic and social views.”
The officials said more than 300,000 people demonstrated in the southern port city of Marseille, with 60,000 protesting in Grenoble and more than 30,000 in Lyon.
Police estimates of the crowds were significantly lower. According to their official count, only 1.2 million people demonstrated Thursday.
Sarkozy, left, had already announced an additional multi-billion-euro aid deal
The protests accompanied a general strike that saw public and private sector workers walk off the job.
The strike began late Wednesday when employees of the national rail network, the SNCF, and French oil giant Total left their posts in protest.
The SNCF said only around half of all scheduled long-distance and regional trains were running and that 36 percent of its employees had not shown up to work Thursday.
Most schools were shut down with unions saying that up to 60 percent of all primary and secondary school teachers would be striking. The Education Ministry put the figure of striking teachers at 30 percent.
The scale of the Jan. 29 demonstrations pushed Sarkozy to announce aid in the form of tax relief and other measures for low-income families worth 2.6 billion euros ($3.6 billion).
But Prime Minister Francois Fillon said there would be no such response this time, noting that bailout packages for the French banking and automobile sectors meant the government could not afford to incur further debt.