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France brought to a standstill by latest round of anti-pension reform protests

FRANCE came to a standstill today when protesters marched nationwide during the latest round of strikes against a planned rise in the retirement age to 64.

Unions described the protests as their biggest show of force against the deeply unpopular proposal from President Emmanuel Macron’s government.

According to the AEF news agency, 63 per cent of French people oppose the government proposal.

Refuse collectors, utility workers, train drivers and others took action today to show their anger at the attack on their pension rights.

More than 250 protests took place across France.

In Paris, tens of thousands of people took to the streets and massive demonstrations were also reported in other major cities, including Marseille, Nice, Nantes and Lyon.

French Democratic Confederation general secretary Laurent Berger said that the numbers of demonstrators nationwide was the greatest since the beginning of the protest movement in January.

Philippe Martinez, who heads the left-wing General Confederation of Labour (CGT) union centre, told FranceInfo: “The goal is that the government withdraw its draft reform. Full stop.”

Some unions have called for open-ended strikes in sectors such as  refineries, oil depots and transport. 

Workers at Paris’s Gare de Nord railway station have already voted to continue the strike into on Wednesday.

The CGT reported that all oil shipments in France were halted by strikes at the refineries of TotalEnergies, Esso-ExxonMobil and Petroineos groups.

Lorry drivers have sporadically blocked major highways in go-slow actions.

In Paris, refuse collectors have started an open-ended strike and blocked access to an incineration plant at Ivry-sur-Seine, near Paris, which is Europe’s biggest such facility.

A fifth of flights were cancelled at Paris’s Charles de Gaulle airport and about a third of flights were scrapped at Orly airport. 

Trains to Germany and Spain came to a halt and those to and from Britain and Belgium were reduced by a third.

Most high-speed and regional rail services were cancelled as well.

Public transport and other services were disrupted in most French cities. In Paris, the Eiffel Tower was closed, as was the Palace of Versailles, west of the capital.

Paris train driver Xavier Bregail said: “We held strong demonstrations earlier, but it’s time to take the movement one step further.”

Mr Bregail voiced hope that the protests would turn into a broader movement against economic injustice.

France’s eight main union confederation and five youth organisations were set to meet last night to decide on their next steps in defence of pension rights.

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