French politicians used a 'guillotine procedure' to speed up the voting process [Reuters]

The French senate has voted to approve a controversial government plan to reform the country's pension and retirement system despite nationwide protests and strikes against the measures.

The government, keen to get the measure passed and quell the increasingly radicalised demonstrations, cut short the debate and voting process using a special procedure.

Critics on the left dubbed the use of Article 44-3 of the constitution by Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, a denial of democracy.

Al Jazeera's Andrew Simmons, reporting from Paris, said that the the reforms, which raise the retirement age from 60 to 62, are expected to pass into law within a week.

"Sarkozy's government is fast-tracking this - it's using tactics to try and bring this whole thing to a head," said Simmons.

"And the unions are as much under pressure as Sarkozy himself, because there's a lot of unpopularity about the whole issue of fuel supplies."

Earlier on Friday, French riot police forcibly removed a blockade on a major refinery, which had caused a nationwide fuel shortage.

The bill has been a hot topic in French politics for months now and had brought thousands of people onto the streets over the past weeks, protesting against the plans.

The government is aiming to cut the deficit to six per cent of gross domestic product next year based on an economic growth forecast of two per cent in the first phase of a plan to trim the budget gap to the EU's three per cent limit by 2013.

Fight not over

Simmons said that while the streets of the capital were quiet on the night of the vote, riot police were standing by, and that unions have promised two more national strikes.

George Tron, secretary for public affairs, voiced his anger at the ongoing strikes and protests, which have led to a shortage of fuel among other problems.

"If you are alluding to those who are against the tax and who are demonstrating, we hear them and that's why we've made changes," he said.

But if it's a question of having the very principles of the Republic and democracy thrown into question because there are people who are not in agreement on the streets and who are demonstrating and taking France hostage, there I don't believe that is democracy," he said in Paris.

The country's opposition socialists have encouraged people to continuing their protests against the pension reforms.

"For me, until the end, it won't be finished," said Daniel Assouline of the Socialist Party.

"So long as the French are convinced in their majority that Nicolas Sarkozy's reform is not just and [not] efficient, things can change.

"And that's what unions think too as they're calling for demonstrations."

As well as increasing the minimum retirement age, the reforms raise from 40.5 to 41.5 the number of years an individual needs to contribute to social security funds before being eligible to collect a pension.

They will also change from 65 to 67 the age at which retirees can collect a full pension.

Despite the anticipated new law, France would still have one of the lowest minimum retirement ages in Europe.

And the broader measures Sarkozy is pushing through to cut the deficit are far milder than those seen in countries such as Britain, which unveiled $126.3bn in spending cuts this week.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies