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French rail workers lead nationwide strikes

world Updated: May 22, 2008 16:54 IST

AFP
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French rail workers on Thursday led a new nationwide day of strike action against pension reforms with only half of trains running across the country.

Unions predict that several hundred thousand people will join rallies across the country but expected rush hour chaos was limited in most major cities.

The one day strike by rail and other public sector workers came as President Nicolas Sarkozy's government also sought to douse the anger of fishermen who have staged nearly two weeks of protests against rising fuel prices.

The state rail company, SNCF, said that half of trains were running across the country. High-speed Eurostar and Thalys trains from Paris to London and Brussels were working normally.

Unions kept to a legal commitment to run a minimum service.

The Paris metro ran almost normally but the train from the capital to Roissy Charles de Gaulle airport was affected and regional cities Nice, Marseille and Lyon reported more disruption.

Air services in the provinces were also disrupted, according to airport officials.

Unions said some 80 demonstrations were scheduled across the country, according to France's five main labour unions, who are leading the campaign against increasing the number of years worked to draw a full pension to 41.

The demonstrations unfolded as French fishermen decry high fuel prices with protests that have crippled cross-Channel ferry traffic.

Fishermen's leaders called on Wednesday for an end to the protests after the government promised to release this year 110 million euros (173 million dollars) from a promised 310 million euro package.

But many fishermen maintained their blockades of some ports and oil depots.