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France Grinds to Halt Over Transportation Strike


Public transportation ground to a virtual halt across much of France as workers went on strike for the second time in a month to protest proposed government reforms. For VOA, Lisa Bryant has more in this report from Paris.

The streets of Paris lacked the usual hustle and bustle of a week day. There were plenty of cars on the streets, but no buses and virtually no metro service.

The walkout by transportation workers that began late Tuesday forced some would-be commuters, like marketing manager Benoit Aimet, to take one of the thousands of bicycles the city began renting this year.

"I am from Laumiere in eastern Paris and I wanted to go the the south," said Aimet. "So I took the bicycle to the Place de Clichy and I wanted to take a tube or a bus. But there was no bus. No tube. Nothing. So unfortunately, I am back home."

Aimet does not support the strikers. But he criticizes the conservative government of President Nicolas Sarkozy for pushing through reforms too quickly, notably on special pension benefits some workers enjoy.

The nearby metro was virtually deserted. Nobody at the ticket counter, and an announcement saying the line was not functioning because of the strike. That left Canadian Genevieve Lies and her friends to head for the Eiffel Tower on foot, a two-hour walk.

LIes, who teaches English in Paris, says she is not sure what the strike is all about. But she believes French transportation workers already have pretty good benefits.

"What is not good is that everyone else has to suffer while they are fighting for what they want. It forces us to be out of our jobs," said LIes. "I am not working for three days, and I am paid by the hour, because of them."

Polls show the majority of French do not support the strike. The government and unions were meeting Wednesday to reach a compromise.

But discontent against Mr. Sarkozy's reforms is growing. Besides the transportation workers, students have shut down a dozen universities against separate reform legislation. Teachers, civil servants, magistrates and court clerks are also expected to go on strike later this month.

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