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French pension reforms passed

world Updated: Oct 28, 2010 01:08 IST

France's parliament granted final approval on Wednesday to a bill raising the retirement age from 60 to 62, a reform that has infuriated the country's powerful unions and touched off weeks of protests and strikes.

The National Assembly approved the final text of the bill in a 336-233 vote on Wednesday, marking its final hurdle in parliament. It was a victory for conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy, who has stood firm despite the protests, an unpopular stance that has resulted in his lowest approval ratings since he took office in 2007.

Protesters aren't yet giving up the fight, since Sarkozy hasn't yet signed the bill. In an attempt to revive a protest movement that has lost momentum lately, unions plan a new nationwide day of street protests and strikes on Thursday that are expected to cause travel problems.

Some striking refinery workers have returned to the job, but French drivers are facing substantial fuel shortages: As of Tuesday evening, about one gas station in five was still closed, with the worst problems around Paris and in western France.

Oil tankers are lined up in the Mediterranean as far as the eye can see off the port of Marseille, waiting to unload. The Normandy port of Le Havre faces a similar situation.

Unions see retirement at 60 as a cornerstone of France's generous social benefit system, but the conservative government says the entire pension system is in jeopardy without the reform because French people now have longer lifespans, an average of nearly 85 years for women and 78 for men, according to newly released figures from statistics agency Insee.

The opposition Socialists plan to challenge the bill's constitutionality before a special council.