France hit by more strikes against pension reform | News | DW | 17.12.2019
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France hit by more strikes against pension reform

From Eiffel Tower operators to hospital doctors, the strikes have drawn French workers from major sectors of the economy. But the French could be losing their appetite for disruption as the holidays draw near.

Travel and public services across France were disrupted on Tuesday as strikes against pension reform entered their 13th day.

Most long-distance and commuter trains were not running Tuesday. International trains and air travel were also affected. 

Workers from across the French labor force, including teachers and doctors, joined transport workers in nationwide strikes. Hundreds of thousands of protesters also took to the streets in cities across the country. 

French trade unions have called for a major push before the holidays, urging workers across all sectors to go on strike and join mass protests organized across the country.

Paris shut down

A protest march began in the afternoon at Place de la Republique in central Paris. Shops were closed along the protest route, riot police lined both sides of the central Boulevard Beaumarchais, and barricades were erected across the traffic circle in Bastille Square.

A reporter for Reuters news agency said police fired tear gas and stun grenades at demonstrators in Place de la Nation. Protesters dressed in black reportedly hurled projectiles at police.  

The city's iconic Eiffel Tower was closed Tuesday as the monument's employees went on strike. 

Eight out of the capital's 14 metro lines were closed, while others offered bare-minimum services. Around 80% of trains in the Ile-de-France region, where Paris is located, were not operating.

Police said they had deployed additional security forces across the city in order to protect people and property from possible cases of violence.

Read more: Emmanuel Macron goes ahead with pension reforms amid strikes

A screen announces the closure of the Eiffel Tower in Paris on Tuesday, December 17, 2019, the 13th straight day of strikes

The Eiffel Tower was closed 'due to a national strike'

Government 'determined' to reform system 

France has been rocked by nearly two weeks of protests since President Emmanuel Macron announced plans to bump the retirement age from 62 to 64.

Despite the ongoing protests, the French government said it won't back down on implementing its reform plans. 

"Democratic and union opposition to our project is perfectly legitimate. But we have stated clearly what our project was and my government is totally determined to reform the pensions system and to balance the pension system's budget," Prime Minister Edouard Philippe told the French Parliament on Tuesday. 

The government was hit by a major setback on Monday when the High Commissioner for Pensions, Jean-Paul Delevoye, announced he would step down after failing to disclose several other jobs he held alongside the pensions portfolio. He is the chief architect of the current proposed pension reform.

Read more: Emmanuel Macron's national debate fails to stop protests

Holiday flop

The unions and the French government are each hoping to push the other to back down before Christmas.

Although polls suggest a majority in France supports the strikes, an Ifop poll for news daily Le Figaro showed that 55% of respondents believed they should not affect the holidays.The transport trade unions have warned that strikes could continue through Christmas, potentially disrupting holiday travel. 

However, the Tuesday strikes failed to attract the pick-up in support that the unions had hoped for, despite private-sector workers joining their ranks. 

The interior ministry said that around 615,000 people participated in the Tuesday demonstrations. The first big day of protests on December 5th drew 806,000 demonstrators.  

Watch video 01:21

Chaos in France as strikes drag on

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kp,wmr,ls/ng (Reuters, AP, AFP, dpa)