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French Parliament Approves Pension Reform


French Labor Minister Eric Woerth, center, is congratulated by members of parliament after the vote on retirement reform at the National Assembly in Paris, 27 October 2010

French Labor Minister Eric Woerth, center, is congratulated by members of parliament after the vote on retirement reform at the National Assembly in Paris, 27 October 2010

French deputies have followed senators in supporting final passage of a pension reform bill that has sparked strikes, demonstrations and blockades. President Nicolas Sarkozy is expected to sign the bill into law by mid-November. The measure will raise the minimum legal retirement age from 60 to 62 years -- still one of the lowest in Europe.

Nonetheless millions of people have demonstrated against the reforms in recent weeks. Striking workers have blocked oil refineries, leading to fuel shortages. The government estimates the protests have cost the country up to $560 million a day.

Debate in French parliament has been rancorous -- as was Tuesday's in the French senate. The government argues the reforms are critical to pay for a growing number of retirees. Economists say France will have to take more drastic measures in the coming years to bankroll pensions. But protesters argue there are other ways to finance the pension system besides raising the retirement age.

The pension reforms are considered a key test for President Sarkozy, whose popularity ratings have plummeted to record low levels - below 30 percent. Standing firm on the reforms may pay dividends two years from now, if he runs for another term in office.

With Mr. Sarkozy's conservative party dominating both houses, passage of the reforms appeared inevitable. But unions promise to fight on, with more demonstrations planned for Thursday and for November 6th. The opposition Socialist party also vows to appeal the measure in France's highest court.

Socialist deputy Jean-Marc Ayrault told French Radio the battle is not over. He said the pension reform will increase injustice and inequality in the country.

To diffuse tensions, Prime Minister Francois Fillon offered to open a dialogue on youth and senior employment.

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