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French Strikers Want Government Reforms Rolled Back

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Two days after French President Nicolas Sarkozy's ruling party was walloped in regional elections, discontented workers are staging nationwide strikes and protests against unpopular government reforms.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy is facing a tough week.  His center-right UMP party suffered a humiliating defeat in regional elections Sunday, losing to the left in all but three of France's 26 regions.  

On Tuesday, teachers, postal employees and transportation workers stayed home from work to register their discontent with job cuts and government plans to reform the pension system.  Thousands took to the streets in protest.

The government says it has listened to the voters' angry message.  Monday, Mr. Sarkozy reorganized the Cabinet, changing several ministers.

But critics, including CGT-labor-union leader Bernard Thibault, say the moves are merely cosmetic.

Speaking on Europe 1 radio, Thibault said 650,000 jobs have been lost in France since 2008 - and yet, he says, Mr. Sarkozy's party still does not understand why voters sanctioned it in regional elections.  He has called for talks between the labor unions and government.

Mr. Sarkozy's popularity ratings have plummeted since the economic crisis, that has boosted unemployment rates to recent highs.  French also appear to be tiring of his hard-charging personality, and for leading a glamorous lifestyle with his singer wife Carla Bruni, while many others pulled in their belts.

The regional elections were the last ballot-box test for Mr. Sarkozy before 2012 presidential elections.  An IPSOS poll published Monday found only 33 percent of French wanted him to run again.

Mr. Sarkozy faces another challenge Thursday, when former prime minister Dominique de Villepin, a top rival and personal foe, is expected to announce the formation of a new party.  Analysts see it as an opening bid to challenge Mr. Sarkozy in 2012.

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