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Transport and energy strikes in France coincide with floods ahead of Euro 2016

Transport and energy strikes have hit France as record floods cut roads and forced people from their homes. The government's labor reform bill is the focus of worker unrest.

Rail strikes halted about half of French train services on Wednesday and continued into Thursday.

Demonstrations have been planned for Thursday in Paris, Marseille, Toulouse and Nantes. Railworkers at the Gare de Lyon in Paris walked on to the tracks to make their protest:

Three of the four rail unions called their members out on an open-ended strike from Wednesday evening, over a planned SNCF company reorganization. The move comes despite the government's intervention to press SNCF management to protect train drivers' weekends off. The SNCF said that 17 percent of its staff were on strike on Wednesday, and expected a similar number for Thursday, a slight increase on the number taking part in last week's stoppage.

Rail management has said protecting weekends will make the company uncompetitive when it opens up to private competition under European Union rules in 2020.

Nuclear and air stoppages

Members of the militant CGT union have begun a series of rolling strikes at 16 of the country's 19 nuclear power stations to put pressure on the government to scrap its labor reform bill. The nuclear plant stoppages will reduce output and oblige the EDF power company to import electricity from neighboring countries.

A second union, Spaf, which represents a quarter of Air France pilots, has called for strikes from June 11, which will also coincide with the Euro 2016 football tournament. The two- to four-day strike is in protest against new measures that reduce their salaries. The SNPL union, which represents most of the airline's pilots, voted on Monday to begin long-term strikes of more than six days at a date to be decided.

However, the SNCTA air traffic controllers' union on Wednesday evening lifted its notice of a strike over working conditions. The three-day stoppage had been set to start on Friday.

An opinion poll in the Journal du Dimanche newspaper showed at the weekend that 46 percent of French people still supported the unions' demands. Protests grew against the labor reform law in May after the government bypassed parliament using special powers, known as Article 49-3, which allows for reform by decree.

Watch video 02:49

Labor-reform protests in France

Floods

Weather forecasters warned of more rain for Thursday after heavy rain fell in central France, parts of which have been hit by the worst flooding in more than 100 years. The situation was described by Meteo France as "exceptional, worse than the floods of 1910."

The Seine overflowed its banks in Paris as the river rose 4.45 meters (14 feet and 6 inches) above its normal level on Wednesday evening. In the Loire Valley, water pooled in front of the Chateau de Chambord.

Schools have been closed, roads cut and thousands of people evacuated because of the flooding.

The department of Loiret south of Paris and Seine-et-Marne to the east of the capital, remained on red alert for flooding Thursday morning.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls was expected to visit Nemours, 80 kilometers (50 miles) south of Paris on Thursday. The town was evacuated after the Loing river burst its banks.

Flooding has been experienced in Germany, Austria and Poland.

Soccer disruption

Much has been made in France of avoiding disruption to the Euro 2016 championships, which start on June 10. Security is at a high level, and the state of emergency imposed after the November 2015 terror attacks in Paris has been extended until the end of July. Some 90,000 police and security teams are being mobilized during the monthlong tournament.

CGT leader Philippe Martinez said his union had no intention of disrupting the event and urged the government to negotiate - especially over a clause in the labor reform bill that would give company-level deals precedence over sector-wide agreements on pay and conditions.

"There's no question of blocking the Euros," Martinez said. "It's not transport strikes that will block the Euros."

Prime Minister Manuel Valls said on Wednesday: "This conflict is weighing on our economy at a time when the actions of the government are allowing a rebound, growth and a fall in unemployment," he told parliament.

The conservative opposition has a majority in the Senate and has said it will amend the labor reform bill to make it tougher - for example, by capping the compensation that labor courts can award for unfair dismissal. The government can overrule the upper house when the bill returns to the lower house for a final reading in July.

jm/msh (AFP, Reuters)

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