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Transportation Strike Cripples France

A massive transportation strike has crippled France, as public transportation and other workers took to the streets to protest pension reform plans proposed by the country's center-right government. Lisa Bryant has more from Paris.

The Gare du Nord train station was practically deserted, as loudspeakers informed travelers, in French and English, that the trains they hoped to take would most likely not be running. That included most domestic trains, although some international service was also disrupted.

Along with train, bus and metro employees, workers from public utilities joined the strike, and many museums were closed.

Some French employees commuted to work by bicycle or hitched rides in cars, but many others stayed home or participated in dozens of marches across the country to protest government plans to trim pension privileges enjoyed by less than two million workers and retirees.

The strike represents the biggest test to date for the country's hard-charging President, Nicolas Sarkozy, and his government. Similar efforts to reform the country's pension system in 1995 sparked massive strikes, and helped bring down that conservative government.

But Steven Ekovich, a political science professor at the American University of Paris, says things are different today.

"It is a test, but I think this president will probably emerge victorious from the test," he said. "The difference between 1995 and today is that public opinion is behind the President. The French elected this president because they felt they wanted some change."

A poll published Wednesday by France's Le Figaro newspaper found that 57 percent of French believed the strike was not justified.

But at the Gare du Nord, an irritated Valery Derview blamed the government for the strike. Ms. Derview was planning to return to home to the southern city of Nice, but there were no trains. She blamed the government for not introducing reforms more gradually.

But not everything was closed. Post offices were open, although not fully functional, and French airports reported business as usual.

Some French unions warn they will continue the strike Friday.

 

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