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Protesters persevere despite parliament approving pensions bill

The protest over pension reforms seems to have run out of steam since parliament passed the pension reform bill on Wednesday. But train and plane travel continued to be disrupted.

French protesters

Protesters march despite the pension law being passed

Hundreds of thousands of French strikers took to the streets on Thursday in a desperate last ditch bid to force President Nicolas Sarkozy to scrap a just-passed law raising the retirement age.

"What's impressive is that this is doubtless the first time that the day after a law is voted we have had such large demonstrations," said the head of the CGT union Bernard Thibault. Although he did admit that there were fewer participants on Thursday than in previous protests.

Officials said that fewer than 200,000 had taken part by midday in what was a ninth one-day protest, compared to 480,000 on October 19.

Jean-Claude Mailly, head of the Force Ouvriere trade union acknowledged that the protest movement was losing some of its previous punch.

The protest movement was starting to show "a little fatigue", he said on France 2 television.

Travel disruptions

Thursday's protests came after France's National Assembly approved the final draft of pension reform legislation on Wednesday. The strikes were a last ditch bid to persuade President Nicolas Sarkozy not to enact the bill.

The strikes disrupted rail and air transport in France on Thursday. Flights in and out of French airports were reduced by 30 to 50 percent due to a one-day stoppage by air traffic controllers, and a rolling strike by rail workers halved some services but caused less disruption than previously to high-speed links.

Striking workers block the main entrance of the an oil depot

The strike at Fos sur Mer is expected to become Sarkozy's next main focus

Work stoppages that began on October 12 to protest against the pension reform have forced the closure of petrol refineries and disrupted the country's transport network and cost France an estimated three billion euros ($4.17 billion).

A separate month-old strike at the port of Fos-Lavera near the southern city of Marseille may now become the government's main focus. It is starving many French refineries of crude oil even after workers at several of them voted to resume work after weeks of being off the job.

Petrol station shortages have eased after the government cleared fuel depot blockades and increased imports in recent days.

A necessary evil

President Nicolas Sarkozy refused to back down over his flagship pensions reform after unions mounted wave after wave of strikes and nationwide street rallies in the past two months .

Sarkozy says the legislation to raise the minimum and full retirement ages by two years to 62 and 67 is vital to rein in a ballooning pension shortfall and safeguard the AAA credit rating that lets France service its debt at the lowest market rates.

The government's controversial pension reform, though passed by France's National Assembly, still needs to be reviewed by the Constitutional Council where a last-minute challenge by the opposition Socialists could mean a delay of a few days but is not expected to overturn it.

Author: Natalia Dannenberg (Reuters/AFP)
Editor: Chuck Penfold

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