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French President Vows to Push Reforms, Despite Labor Protests

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, facing widespread national labor unrest, is vowing to press forward with economic reforms, saying France needs to change to meet the challenges of today's world.

Speaking Tuesday in Paris, Mr. Sarkozy told a conference of mayors that pension reforms have been put off for too long. He said a "clean break" is now needed to stop what he called France's decline.

Hundreds of thousands of French civil servants seeking better pay launched a one-day strike today, joining transit workers in Paris protesting Mr. Sarkozy's push to reform the nation's economy.

Government employees, including postal and airport workers, teachers and hospital staff took to the streets of Paris. There they marched with rail workers who began striking last week against Mr. Sarkozy's plans to reform the state pension system.

Tuesday's protests left many French hospitals providing minimal care. It also closed schools and snarled mail deliveries. About half of France's 85 universities were closed, as students blocked access to buildings.

Authorities say the transit delays are costing France more than $400 million a day.

Transport unions and the Paris Transit authority were to hold talks Wednesday.

Opinion polls have suggested that most people support President Sarkozy, who says France can no longer afford to let some public sector employees retire on a full pension as early as age 50.

Some information for this report provided by AP and AFP.

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