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France's Sarkozy Unveils Labor, Pensions Reforms

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French President Nicolas Sarkozy has vowed Tuesday to push through wide-ranging labor market reforms, including relaxing a key labor law and trimming special pension privileges for some workers. Lisa Bryant has more from Paris on what is considered one of the first big challenges of Mr. Sarkozy's presidency.

In a speech to the French Senate Tuesday, President Sarkozy outlined a raft of areas he believe should be overhauled in France to make the country more competitive - and he argued, better attuned to workers' needs. They reforms include further easing the requirement for the 35-hour work week - considered one of the shortest in Europe.

Sarkozy also announced he would scrap pension perks given to certain workers, including those in the gas, electricity and public transportation sectors. Those perks allow some employees to retire early and receive pension premiums.

The president said these benefits might have been justified decades ago - when such jobs were more difficult and dangerous. But not anymore. Previous governments have failed to overhaul the system, he said, his would not.

Trimming retirement privileges is an explosive issue in France. Efforts to do so helped bring down one previous conservative government, in 1995. But Sarkozy vowed his government would talk with labor unions and other concerned parties

before trying to push through legislation. A poll published in the conservative Le Figaro newspaper showed the majority of French believing efforts to reform the pension system is risky, but that it's also a good idea.

But members of the leftist opposition have already blasted Mr. Sarkozy's proposals and some union leaders warn of upcoming strikes.

On Wednesday, Mr. Sarkozy will unveil another sensitive issue - plans to trim the country's civil service.

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