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Europe
French strike 'costing billions'
Finance minister gives warning that long-running action against pension revamp is costing country up to $562m a day.
Last Modified: 25 Oct 2010 12:45 GMT
Oil-refinery workers around the country have been on strike for more than a week over the pension overhaul [AFP]

Long-term action against an overhaul of France's pension system is threatening to derail the economy and could be costing as much as $562m a day, the government has said.

Christine Lagarde, the finance minister, gave warning on Monday that an estimated 200 to 400 million euros was being lost each day as workers continue to go on strike.

"Today, we shouldn't be weighing down this recovery with campaigns that are painful for the French economy and very painful for a certain number of small and medium-sized businesses," she told Europe 1 radio.

She said that images broadcast around the world of demonstrators clashing with riot police and of industrial sites blocked by protesters had cost France  in terms of its international image for investors.

"It's the attractiveness of our territory that's at stake when we see pictures like that," she said.

Lagarde said that the ongoing strikes at refineries and fuel depots were also taking a toll.

"It's obvious that the petrochemical sector in particular, which needs large supplies of hydrocarbons, is suffering."

Sarkozy popularity dives

Unions and students have been holding strikes for more than a week in an attempt to pressure the government to scrap plans to raise the age of retirement from 60 to 62.

Politicians are expected to sign the bill, which the government says is necessary to save money in the face of a deficit crisis, into law this week, after the French senate approved it last Friday.

Despite raids by riot police last week, France's 12 refineries were blocked again on Sunday, as were ports in Marseille and Le Havre, where dozens of tankers are still anchored.

Workers voted to end a strike at one of the fuel depots on Monday, the AFP news agency reported, while Reuters said long-running raily sector strikes were beginning to wane.

Some 9,000 tonnes of rubbish has also piled up on the streets of Marseille, a Mediterranean port city and its suburbs, due to garbage collectors joining the strike.

Ongoing demonstrations have brought millions onto the streets, and open-ended walkouts by railway and petroleum workers have wreaked havoc on commuters and travellers.

Polls have shown the vast majority of French people support the strikers.

Another survey, published in Sunday's Journal du Dimanche newspaper, showed that only 29 per cent of the 1,828 people questioned were satisfied with the performance of Nicolas Sarkozy.

That was down three per cent from September and was the French president's lowest rating since taking office in 2007.

It was also among the lowest approval ratings of any French president in recent memory, the newspaper said.

Source:
Agencies
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