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France hit by national strike

world Updated: May 22, 2008 22:55 IST

AFP
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More than half a million French workers took to the streets on Thursday, unions said, for a one-day show of force against President Nicolas Sarkozy's government over pension reforms.

Major queues of trucks also built up at the Channel port of Calais because of a strike against dock privatisation plans.

Rail workers led the national stoppage, with only half of trains running across France, but commuter chaos was limited in Paris and other big cities, as the unions stuck to new rules on providing minimum service during strikes.

The main CGT union said more than 700,000 people marched in 153 towns and cities across France -- well over the target turnout of half a million. Police had yet to release their own estimate.

"Unless the government changes its mind, there will be more days like this one," warned Bernard Thibault, head of France's biggest union the CGT, at the head of the Paris march.

Tens of thousands of people marched in the capital behind banners reading "Hands off my pension!", while factory workers and dockers angry at privatisation plans joined rallies in several cities including Marseille.

Walkouts were reported across the French public sector, with between 10 and 20 per cent of postal, utilities and telecoms employees joining the strike, officials said.

And radio shows were replaced by music on public stations France Inter and Radio France Internationale.

France's five main unions are protesting at plans to increase the number of years worked to draw a full pension, from 40 to 41, starting next year.