French protesters clash with police

Arrests amid protests against plans to raise retirement age as president warns of "tougher action" against rioters.

    Unions against the pension reform vow more protests in the coming weeks [AFP]

    France has witnessed another day of confrontations as protesters blocked key sites and clashed with police amid calls by unions for further nationwide protests over plans by the government to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62.

    The country's senate is expected to vote on changes to the pensions system as early as Friday, but Al Jazeera's Jacky Rowland, reporting from Paris, the capital, said that the main constituents of the bill have already been passed.

    Youths meanwhile clashed with riot police in several cities.

    A schoolgirl was taken to hospital on Thursday during clashes with police outside a high school in the central city of Poitiers.

    Police in Lyon fired tear gas when a group of around 200 high school students tried to join a demonstration organised by the CGT, the country's main union.

    Five youths were arrested in Nice after stones were thrown at police during a demonstration outside a high school. 

    Unions said 35,000 people took to the streets of the southern city of Toulouse on Thursday, although officials put the figure closer to 8,000.

    At least 4,000 high school students marched through the capital, with student union leaders vowing to continue protesting despite half-term holidays which start on Friday.

    Student protests

    Rowland said that the presence of youths on the streets may decrease as the holidays approach.

    Pension Reform


      Under current rules, the French can retire at 60, providing they have paid social security contributions for 40.5 years.
      Retirees are entitled to a full pension when they are 65.
      The planned reform would raise the minimum retirement age to 62 by 2018, the qualification to 41.5 years, and the pension age to 67.
      Officials say the reforms would save about $95bn.

    "Opposition to these reforms has seen many young French citizens go to the streets along with the powerful unions, but numbers may steadily decline," she said.

    Between 3,500 and 5,000 students took to the streets of the southwestern city of Bordeaux, carrying banners such as: "We would have burnt this reform but there's no petrol left."

    Activists blocked access to Marseilles airport for several hours before being cleared by police, causing tailbacks of several kilometres.

    Troops have also been sent in to clear rubbish from the streets of the Mediterranean port where collectors are on strike.

    "By taking the French economy, businesses and daily life hostage, you will destroy jobs," Nicholas Sarkozy, the French president, said on Thursday.

    He also accused trade union leaders of undermining France's fragile economic recovery.

    "We can't be the only country in the world where, when there's a reform, a minority wants to block everyone else. That's not possible. That's not democracy," said Sarkozy.

    The president also vowed tough action against rioters.

    Government 'intransigence'

    Bernard Thibault, the head of the CGT union, said that faced with government "intransigence", there was "no reason to stop these protests" and "we recommend further action from next week".

    "We have to continue with the most massive actions possible," he told local radio.

    Unions are to meet on Thursday to decide on holding further mass rallies, possibly on Tuesday, a week after the last main protest.

    More than a million people took to the streets then, the sixth day of action since September, to protest against the unpopular plan to raise minimum retirement from 60 to 62 and full pension payments from 65 to 67.

    Workers in key sectors have been on strike for more than a week to against protest the reform, which the government says is essential to reduce France's public deficit.

    Unions and political opponents say it penalises workers.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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