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French protest again on pensions but fatigue weighs

world Updated: Oct 28, 2010 15:34 IST

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Further strikes disrupted rail and air transport in France on Thursday but the broader protest over plans to raise the retirement age appeared to be waning a day after parliament adopted pension reform legislation.

Flights in and out of French airports were reduced by 30 to 50 percent due to a one-day stoppage by air traffic controllers, and a rolling strike by rail workers halved some services but caused less disruption than previously to high-speed links.

Workers at the LyondellBasell refinery in southesast France voted to stop blocking fuel from leaving, in another sign protests that have hit petrol pumps are easing.

President Nicolas Sarkozy refused to back down when unions mounted wave after wave of strikes and nationwide street rallies in the past two months over his presidency's flagship reform.

Thursday marked the seventh day of protests called by the unions over the plans to make people work two years longer for a pension, all but one of them since the start of September.

Union leaders noted the bill has yet to be signed onto the statute books. Either way, the damage caused by the government's failure to heed their demands would not vanish, they said.

"This will leave deep scars," Jean-Claude Mailly, leader of the Force Ouvriere union, said on France 2 TV, acknowledging at the same time that the protest movement was starting to show "a little fatigue".

"No law can decree an end to the union struggle," Bernard Thibault, head of the CGT union told Europe 1 radio.

As a day of further protest rallies kicked off in cities such as Marseille, before one in Paris in the afternoon, a CSA opinion survey showed the union-led protests still enjoyed the support of about two-thirds of French people.

A separate month-old strike at the port of Fos-Lavera near the southern city of Marseille may now become the government's main focus.

It is starving many French refineries of crude oil even after workers at several of them voted to resume work after weeks of work stoppage.

Sarkozy says the legislation to raise the minimum and full retirement ages by two years
to 62 and 67 is vital to rein in a ballooning pension shortfall and safeguard the AAA credit rating that lets France service its debt at the lowest market rates.

The bill got the final vote of approval in parliament on Wednesday.

It still needs to be approved by the constitutional council where a last-minute challenge by the opposition Socialists could mean a delay of a few days but is not expected to overturn it.

Petrol station shortages have eased after the government cleared fuel depot blockades and increased imports.