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French trains halted as unions resist reform

About half of French rail services have been halted as workers resist President Francois Hollande's controversial labor reforms. His government accuses unions of upsetting next week's Euro 2016 football start.

French SNCF rail said 40 percent of its high-speed trains and more than half of regional trains were canceled Wednesday because of the stoppages called by three rail worker trade unions.

Commuter trains serving Paris' Charles de Gaulle airport were also impacted.

International rail services to Britain and Germany were not due to be affected, but the majority of trains to Spain and Italy were likely to be canceled. The disturbances begin within 10 days of the start of the Euro 2016 football tournament.

A spokesman for Hollande's Socialist party accused the powerful CGT union of embarrassing the country.

The conservative former president, Nicolas Sarkozy, said the government had lost control in its handling of the intended reforms.

Widespread protest since March last week led to some petrol pumps running dry owing to blockades by union activists. Oil terminal workers at Le Havre - which supplies kerosene to Paris's two main airports - also voted to extend their blockade into Wednesday.

Despite the disruption, 46 percent of French people still supported the unions' calls, a poll in the Journal du Dimanche showed Sunday.

Strikes pending at Air France

From Thursday, metro workers in Paris are planning to walk off the job. Air France pilots have threatened to strike when Euro 2016 is in full swing.

Earlier this month, Prime Minister Manuel Valls used a constitutional provision without a lower chamber vote to pass the bill aimed at softening France's rigid labor laws to allow firms to cut jobs during hard times.

Frankreich Arbeitsmarktreform Protest

Fiery protests outside an oil depot last week.

CGT union head Philippe Martinez said the government could avoid disruptions to the tournament, scheduled to begin on 10 June, by agreeing to discuss the new laws.

"We're not going to stop people going to see the football matches, but the government has to be prepared to discuss," said Martinez.

Hollande defiant

A defiant Hollande told the Sud Ouest newspaper Tuesday that the draft law "assures the best performance for business and offers new rights to employees.

Martinez said his CGT would take legal action against MEDEF employers' federation head Pierre Gattaz, who had accused unions of behaving like "terrorists."

Hollande said the biggest threat to Euro 2016 "remains terrorism," despite the union-induced transport delays.

Underlining his remarks, police and rescue workers practiced Tuesday outside the Stade de France, one of the Paris venues targeted by terrorists on November 13.

Unions have called a national day of protest for June 14, the day the upper house, the Senate, begins examining the draft labor reform legislation.

Disruptions had also gripped neighboring Belgium on Tuesday as public workers protested the Belgian center-right government's austerity plans, including raising the retirement age.

High-speed trains to Germany were halted and services to France were reduced.

ipj/msh (AFP, AP)